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Holding on tight to the drive to succeed

There is an inner drive that would lead the Lo-Ellen Park Knights girls prep basketball team to ultimately make their way to the Ontario Scholastic Basketball Association (OSBA).

It is a need that was, and is fueled by a commitment to excellence, a search for perpetual progression that is shared by both coaches and players alike. And it’s a mindset that will be critical to the team working their way even further up the ranks in the OSBA in year two.

“Taking my foot off the gas does not come naturally to me,” coach Jennifer Bourget opined, without hesitation, her team practice just wrapped up while a small handful of players continued to work on very specific skill-sets.

Thankfully, hers is a team that craves this single-mindedness of purpose.

“From a young age, I was immersed in a world of basketball,” recalled 17 year old guard Dylann Mazzuchin. “The people that have guided me through this journey have really stuck by me, pushed me to be the best that I can be, both on and off the court. I just think that’s really special.”

Special is also a word that could well describe the all-around athleticism of the young lady who balances with equal brilliance both her sporting and her academic pursuits.

Such was her impact on the high-school scene as a freshman at Lo-Ellen Park that Mazzuchin would earn a nod as one of three finalists for the Kinsmen High-School Female Athlete of the Year in 2015, having yet to complete her first year of secondary schooling.

“It’s been a little hard because I’m such a perfectionist,” she said candidly. “I think as I get older, everything is building up, so I had to choose. Running and track took a back seat. I had to specialize.”

Abby Frick brings a completely different background to the table, where her current passion came to the forefront only after a lengthier stretch of multi-sport excellence. “I had bounced around with soccer and volleyball and really got into basketball about five years ago,” said the younger of two children in the family.

“I played SYBL (Sudbury Youth Basketball League) and really enjoyed it. I like the team atmosphere. I knew that a lot of work was needed to get better, and I knew that I was willing to put in that work.”

If there is one common bond that holds true for all of the Prep Knights, it lies in the belief in the steps that are required to reach the ultimate goal, of continuing their career at a level beyond high-school. For some, that realization has been part of their DNA since they first cradled a basketball in their undersized hands.

For others, the “ah-ha” moment came just a little bit later.

“I didn’t realize just how good some of the girls were,” said Frick, reflecting on her team’s inaugural season in the OSBA. “Some of them are now playing in the States, so that was kind of an eye opener. It surprised me just how much work the players put in, even beyond just the practices.”

A former Canadian university talent who has now coached many a local female player who has gone on to compete on either CIS/U Sport or NCAA courts across North America, Jennifer Bourget had a better handle than most on the demands of the new league, the time and effort that would be requisite from her teenage troops.

“I learned that you simply could not take a break in any game,” she suggested of her first year OSBA experience. “Not that you would do so in any other league, but the competition here is so good, you just couldn’t take a break. Our scouting reports had to be more accurate; our preparation for each team had to be more precise.”

“It was also a lot longer period than a high school season,” Bourget continued. “That was a learning experience in itself, trying to manage the periodization of a university season. It was hard to try and incorporate everything in and still feel that they were fully prepared for each game.”

And so the bar is raised. Raised, ever so slightly, in each and every practice, in each and every game, in each and every quarter of play.

“We learned a lot from last year,” said Frick. “Our main focus is to have really good defence. At one of our first practices, we decided that we want to be known as having the best defence in the league.”

That will be a challenge, to say the least, given some of the phenomenal athletes that are donning opposing jerseys. “They are on you, right away,” stated Frick. “You get a rebound and there’s two people on you, right then and there. It’s difficult handling that ball pressure, you’ve got to get used to it.”

“As a basketball player, from a young age, you can get by with raw talent and athleticism,” noted Mazzuchin. “As you grow older, everyone around you starts to train, becomes more skilled, so it evens things out. If you want to be an elite player you to not only be athletic and commit yourself to athleticism, but you need to get in the gym and work on your skills, get shots up.”

It would be hard for anyone involved with Lo-Ellen Park Prep to complain about year one. Even the “foot on the gas” bench boss was happy. “I think we surprised a lot of teams, I really do,” said coach Bourget. “I think the people that really knew our team were not necessarily surprised. They knew the talent of the group.”

A group that is sure to be even more heavily scouted, this winter, with the bulk of the roster now holding grade 12 status. “For me, personally, I want to make sure I have fun,” said Frick. “That’s the main thing.”

“People are watching, but you don’t want to get caught up in knowing that people are watching.”

The truth is, it will be over, before you now it. And then even the drive to succeed will be missed.

“This group, we’ve been together for so long,” said Mazzuchin. “I think I’m not ready yet to let go of that.”

The 2019-2020 edition of the Lo-Ellen Park Knights girls prep basketball team includes Aneisha Rismond, Kaitlyn Simard, Grace Smrke, Delaney Bourget, Charlotte Church, Mireille DiMaio, Abby Frick, Emilie Lafond, Dylann Mazzuchin and Claudia Pellerin-Olutayo.

Northern Ontario AAA Hockey League