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A winning weekend on the basketball court for Yellowknife Eagles and Winmar Spartans

Whenever you hear of a large group of people from Yellowknife heading to Edmonton, chances are they’re picking up a flight to go somewhere.
Mia Locke-Setter, right, looks to drive to the hoop while being guarded during action at the Swoosh Volvo of Edmonton Challenge on Sunday. Photo courtesy of Yellowknife Eagles

Whenever you hear of a large group of people from Yellowknife heading to Edmonton, chances are they’re picking up a flight to go somewhere.

But there was a large group from the capital in Edmonton for sporty reasons and they done pretty good.

The Yellowknife Eagles girls high-performance program, DTE Futures youth basketball outfit and Winmar Spartans boys high-performance team were all in the Alberta capital this past weekend for the Swoosh Volvo of Edmonton Challenge. With apologies to everyone else, the Spartans is who we’ll begin with as they had perhaps the most exciting of all the finishes.

They played in the U17 boys bronze division and ended up winning it all, defeating Swan City U17 of Vancouver by a score of 57-56 in the final on Sunday. Rex Turner played the hero’s role as he hit a backdoor cutter lay-up in the dying seconds of regulation time to give the Spartans the title.

“Francesco Stefanos got the assist,” said head coach Emmanuel Ramos. “He likes to go one-on-one, but I got him to pass out and that led to the winning bucket.”

The Spartans ended up winning all four of their games and, save for the final, all in semi-comfortable fashion.

But Ramos didn’t feel as if the wining margins were as spread out as they looked on paper.

“They were all relatively closer than it was on the scoreboard,” he said. “Every team played us really well, but I think we did better defensively than anything else. We’re a team that grinds it out on defence because we aren’t a big team. Other teams like to go out on the fast-break on us, so we just try to shut them down and take that away.”

This was the first and only tournament of the season for the Spartans, who played in the Yellowknife Basketball Association this past season.

Ramos said before the tournament, he was concerned more about the pace of play the boys would face.

“Once the adults build a comfortable lead, they like to slow it down,” he said. “Our kids rely on athleticism and I was worried that this tournament could’ve been faster than what they’re used to.”

When it comes to the Eagles, the U19 girls outfit played in the U17 girls silver division and, like the Spartans, won them all on their way to the division title.

Coach Aaron Wells said with the exception of the opening game, which ended in a lopsided win, everything else was closely matched.

“We were definitely in the right division,” he said. “The first game was a runaway, but the other games were good and close. Lots of lead changes and we battled hard for each of those wins.”

In the final, the Eagles took on the Fort McMurray Elite and won by a score of 45-37, though Wells said it didn’t look like it was going to be a winning finish in the early going.

“There was a moment early on where we looked like we weren’t ready,” he said. “The ladies found a way back into it and pulled through. If you were to ask me before the tournament if we were going to win it all, I would’ve said no, but we were able to find ourselves out there and claw back.”

Veteran players such as Lily Newberry and Taya Straker came up huge, he added, but it was the bench which carried a lot of water for the team.

“We rely on Lily and Taya to do a lot of the scoring, but we pushed the girls to attack and shoot more,” he said. “Our secondary scoring came up huge. We seemed to click last month (at a tournament in Edmonton) and the end result was everyone on the same page and we just got going.”

The U19 Eagles weren’t the only club from the program in Edmonton last weekend — the U15 and U13 girls also made the trip and while neither of them won a title, they did manage to hit the win column.

Richelle Castro, who coaches the U15 Eagles, said it took a bit of time for her girls to get used to the atmosphere of the tournament.

“A lot of these girls had never been to a tournament before and we were acclimatizing ourselves,” she said. “It was hard to find the groove at the start, but we got over that and got better as the weekend went on.”

The girls did have a thriller of a game against Win Basketball of Calgary, which they came through from with a 40-38 win in overtime.

Castro said they were up for the entire game, but just couldn’t shake off the opposition.

“We’ll take that win over all the others,” she said. “That’s where the girls learned how to win a game like that — they had to deal with the pressure and they did it so well.”

The DTE Futures had three teams in action: a U13 squad and two teams in the U15 division. Both of the U15 teams played in the silver division and were evenly split, a change from the last tournament they went to, said coach Jose Esteban.

“When we travelled over Easter, we went with an A team and B team, but we evened it out this time,” he said. “We have experienced players and players who are still learning and those who are learning showed they can catch on pretty quickly.”

Both teams managed to find the win column with the job made tougher for the Futures Gold team, who won one of their games, 53-48, with just four players on the floor. How? Esteban explains:

“We had a team of seven players — one left with a concussion, one was hurt from a knee-on-knee and one fouled out, so we had to finish with four” he said. “The boys had no fear — they all stepped up and adjusted well.”

The Winmar Spartans took top spot in their division at the Swoosh Volvo of Edmonton Challenge basketball tournament on Sunday. They are, front row from left, Kabbamoy Paul, Aldon Gavina, Jericho Jiminez, Justin Quito, Francesco Stefanos, Jack Bragg, Jozuard Mercado and Charles Yatco; back row from left, Trey Granter, Cash Rewega, Gwantana Kiboigo, Colby Caines, Rex Steele Turner and Quinn Gillard. Photo courtesy of Mark Matheson