With a senior girls basketball team built around a core of talent that included the likes of Ariane Saumure, Arielle Douillette and Clara Yanchuk, the Macdonald-Cartier Pantheres had made a habit, quite recently, of advancing to OFSAA championships.
But with only three returning players this year - Cloe Douillette, Lexine Moyle, Callie Moore - a NOSSA banner was anything but a given.
"There wasn't the same expectations, but we still managed to get to that same level, to win NOSSA and make it to OFSAA," noted Moyle, a 17 year old grade 12 multi-sport athlete, who hopes to move on towards a career as an electician following her graduation from ESMC next June.
"After playing in a few games and tournaments, we started to know each other's strengths, and played along with it. We practiced a lot of individual things, and after a while, it all meshed together really well."
While the very young Pantheres were unable to defend the SDSSAA crown they captured one year ago, a 45-24 decision over the Espanola Spartans secured the NOSSA "A" accolades, and with it, a trip to Welland for provincials.
"This year was more of a team effort," acknowledged Moyle. "Last year, even if I was ready to take a shot, I would just pass it to Ariane, because I knew that she could get the job done. With this team, we have to pass it around a couple of times to try and get a better opening."
"We really had to share the ball, share the moments."
The wisdom of the experience of Lexine Moyle and the remaining vets would also be shared with a large incoming class of rookies, players who had cut their teeth as part of a very talented Macdonald-Cartier junior squad one year ago.
"The pace of the game is a lot faster, the game a lot more intricate, and the girls are just overall better, which makes you better," noted 16 year old grade 11 guard Zoe Smith. At 5'11", the well-spoken teenager would likely occupy a spot on the inside of the paint, for pretty much any other team in Sudbury - other than the Pantheres.
"We have three girls that are about the same size as me, but they're a little bit stronger, so they play the post and small forward positions," said Smith. "I've played shooting guard since I was a junior - the shooting came a little more naturally to me."
"I find that the post position doesn't suit me well, and I've also played with Cloe (Douillette) since I was in grade four, and she always filled that role so well." That said, this has forced Smith to expand her game, especially in dealing with the additional defensive intensity that teams tend to encounter at the senior level.
"My dribbling is the weakest point in my game, but I do feel that it's gotten a lot better this year," she said. "Seb (coach Sebastien Gervais) has really worked with me. I've been in-bounding the ball a lot, so in press break scenarios, I've always been the reverse and I've learned to bring the ball up sometimes."
"He would put me in situations where I could practice my dribbling in game, which has been great for me."
And great for the team, as well, apparently.
"I would say that the biggest challenge that we had at the beginning of the year was dealing with pressure - full court pressure, pressure defence, traps and all that," said Gervais, as he readied his team for a fourth consecutive trip to OFSAA.
"We played back to back tournaments in Brampton and at Franco, with a lot of games in a short time span. At those tournaments, we dealt with different types of pressure. I would say that we came out much more confident in our pressure breaking offense, in staying composed."
"We gained some mental toughness, some good experience playing different opponents," Gervais continued. "I would say that that stretch of the season was probably the most formative, which helped us win two elimination games at NOSSA, and hopefully again at OFSAA."
Where his three previous teams all entered the event rated in the top five, the 2019 edition of the ESMC crew are ranked eighth in a field of 16 entries.
"We're happy to be there, we're hungry for more, but we know that we're a younbg team, still learning, still building," said Gervais. "I wouldn't say that a gold medal is the goal, but I wouldn't hate it if it happened."
"I think a realistic goal at OFSAA is a spot in quarter-finals, or maybe semi-finals. That isn't out of reach."
The 2019 Macdonald-Cartier Pantheres senior girls basketball team assemble the likes of Cloe Douillette, Claudie Lafreniere, Callie Moore, Lexine Moyle, Katie Pilon, Zoe Smith, Karyne Villeneuve, Jenna Walker and Kyra Winn.
OFSAA Update: The Pantheres started off well enough, but now find themselves heading into consolation play later this afternoon. Macdonald-Cartier overcame a 26-13 half-time deficit in their opening game, pulling away for a 47-35 win over ESC Sainte-Tinite Couguars, as Douillette netted 19 points, Smith added 14 and Pilon chipped in with ten.
Unfortunately, a disastrous second quarter in their round two match-up, outscored 14-0, would lead to a 48-29 defeat at the hands of the London Christian High School Pioneers as Douillette (15) and Karyne Villeneuve (6) topped the scoring parade in a losing cause.