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Impact hosting two provincial girls basketball championships
Posted: May 7th, 2014 @ 11:14pm
By CLAUDE SCILLEY
They were young and relatively inexperienced at the beginning of the season, running into opponents who were older, bigger, more savvy on the basketball court.
Often, a coach will try to prevent anxiety in such a situation by creating more structure, wrapping the players in a security blanket of set plays designed to uncomplicate their lives.
That's not the way it happened with the Kingston Impact.
Instead, Paul Coulter decided to turn his players loose.
Perhaps the positive impact of that early-season decision won't be found in the team's 4-22 record, but it's clearly apparent to anyone who watches the team practice or play.
"I would like to be better than 4-22," Coulter said, "but I couldn't be prouder of how this group of girls, who are very young, came together."
This weekend the Impact is hosting the Ontario Basketball Juel - short for 'junior elite' - championship tournament. Fourteen regional teams comprising the best under-19 female players in the province will converge at Queen's University for a three-day event that commences Friday morning.
Simultaneously, Kingston will have a team among the 18 contesting the Juel Prep championship, also at Queen's.
With five members of last year's Impact team playing college or university ball this year, Coulter and his fellow coaches, Kirsti Siltanen and Samantha Nuttall, began the year with just four returning players. Amid rosters consisting mainly of Grade 12 girls, the Impact has five players in Grade 12, six in Grade 11 and one in Grade 10.
"Our inexperience and our youth is great at practice but unfortunately we're not able to compete with the top teams in the province, as much as I would want to," Coulter said. "With what these girls have done with their individual talents and what we've been able to accomplish in terms of being in a lot of games, there are no regrets.
"I love walking on the court with these girls in practice; I love walking off after games."
The team changed direction after the fourth week of the season. The coaches were watching video of the team's performance that weekend and they were disturbed by something they saw.
"We said, 'See how slow and methodical everything is?'" Coulter said. "These girls didn't really trust themselves as players, trust in their ability to create and be players first, versus just run a play."
The message: Stop running the play for the play's sake and start being a player.
To that end, the pace of practice was boosted. "Everything became a competition," Coulter said. "Our shooting drill, we'd normally say make 10 (shots). No. Now we have to make 10 in under 20 seconds.
"Even within the drill, be a player and trust that you can do it."
All of a sudden, the Impact went from taking 40 shots in a game to 55. Speeding up the game, instead of slowing it down, seemed to be working. "You don't have time to stop and think so much," Coulter said. "You just play.
"They started believing in themselves as players within the structure. In Week 7 and Week 8 we played dynamite. We didn't win all the games, but we had a nice win against a team we'd lost to by 20 points. We beat Barrie after they hammered us."
There were two reasons for the emergence, Coulter suggested. One is the nature of the group. "They work hard, they get along, they listen - they are so much fun to watch."
The other is the youngest player on the team, Bridget Mulholland. A Grade 10 student at Regiopolis Notre Dame, Mulholland was this year's recipient of the Hazel Miner award, presented by Ontario Basketball in the name of the woman who organized the province's first junior development program to the U-15 player who "upholds the finest qualities of sport in her pursuit of excellence."
"The kid's got a work ethic like no one else," Coulter said. "She treats every moment of every practice like it's the last time she's ever going to touch the ball."
Mulholland also coaches in the Impact house league and Coulter says her marks in school are "exceptional."
"She's a very well rounded kid but at every practice you would walk in and think, 'This girl has been told this is the last time she can ever play and she's giving every single ounce she's got.' The level of competitiveness is heightened because a kid like that gives it, and it is infectious."
The Impact will play its first game of the double-knockout tournament against the Windsor Valiants, at 9:30 a.m. Friday in the upper east gym at the Athletics and Recreation Centre. The Valiants finished the regular year 8-18.
Kingston, 4-13, will open the Juel Prep tournament at 11:30 a.m. Friday in Bartlett Gym against the winless Hamilton Transway Seconds.
The championship games will be played Sunday afternoon in the main gym in the ARC. The Juel Prep title will be decided at 2 o'clock, with the Juel final scheduled to follow at 4 p.m.
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