By CLAUDE SCILLEY
Tim Orpin figures his team could easily look better—on paper. Statistically, there’s no question his Kingston Impact team could appear much more impressive playing someplace else.
He wouldn’t have it for a moment.
“I hate to say it, but part of the issue (of sport) in Kingston is what level do you play at,” Orpin said Monday, after the Impact’s penultimate practice before the Juel Prep championship tournament this weekend at Queen’s University.
During its regular schedule, the Kingston team of girls in Grades 9 and 10 was six games below .500, at 9-15. “It’s not exactly where we wanted,” Orpin said, “but it’s better than last year (when the team won three games).”
The Impact coach believes benefits of playing in the premier league in the province are defined much more broadly than by wins and losses.
“Are you happy to be in Division 4 or Division 5?” Orpin said. “The kids may have more success there, but from a basketball perspective, from the technical perspective, you don’t improve as much.
“We have the opportunity to play against the best kids in Ontario. There’s not many sports who can say that. For a small city like ours, I think that’s awesome.”
For the people who want to be serious about the sport, the primary benefit, Orpin believes, is they can experience the level at which they must play to do so.
“They learn how to compete, because the other girls are bigger, they’re faster, they have more basketball knowledge and, usually, they’ve been playing together longer,” he said.
“You have to be strong in this league, and you have to be assertive and mentally tough, because you’re playing against girls who will (one day) form our national team, or go to the States on scholarship. They’re seeing all that.”
Impact captain Mary Besselink said that the introduction to Juel basketball—Juel is a contraction of Junior Elite—can be startling for someone used to the level of play in high school.
“To get a year of Juiel Prep under your belt is great, because you know what to expect to compete at this level,” she said. “To bring new girls into it is an eye-opener.
“To see all the talent all around Ontario, all these girls who are wanting to play at the next level, it’s really cool.”
Playing against opponents of that calibre can be intimidating, Besselink acknowledged. “Totally intimidating,” she said. It’s a setting where a player could easily get discouraged, but Besselink said the team has been able to overcome its bouts of doubt.
“Everything they do is fast, everything they do is smart, everything they do is at the best level, one you don’t get in Kingston. It’s good basketball.
“It’s hard for everyone,” she said. “You get down in the game and (wonder) what do you have to do to get yourselves up. This year, (one game) the coaches just said, ‘We’re not going to talk to you at halftime; what are you girls going to do?’ We talked about what we can do to have a better second half.
“It was tough. At first it’s quiet; it’s, like, ‘Good job girls,’ because girls don’t want to be mean to each other, but we’re a close enough group that we can say things to each other, on and off the court.
“It was (an interesting exercise) … definitely helpful.”
Orpin said this particular group has thrived in the Juel setting.
“Largely, they have the mental ability to want to get better,” he said. “They’re not afraid to take criticism. They have that skill set that allows you to coach them.”
There are tangible signs of improvement. Early in the season, the Impact lost by 17 points to an Oakville Venom team that finished three games ahead of it in the standings. “We got hammered; we weren’t even in the game,” Orpin said.
When the teams met again on the final weekend of the regular year, Kingston prevailed by 11.
“I don’t think (Oakville) played as well as they could, but it’s nice to beat teams that are ahead of us,” Orpin said. “There are four or five teams that we would have to have a really phenomenal day to beat, but we’re competing now. Even though we’re getting beaten by the better teams, it’s not for lack of effort. That’s success, I think.”
Play in the 13-team tournament begins Friday morning at 11:30 in the Queen’s Athletics and Recreation Centre. Teams are divided into four pools, with Kingston beginning play against Oakville (12-12) in the Bartlett Gym at 3:30 Friday, followed by a game at 1 p.m. Saturday against the London Ramblers (20-4).
The playoff round begins at 11:30 a.m. Sunday (http://www.juel.ca/scores.php for the complete schedule).
Hamilton Transway comes into the tournament as the top seed, after a 22-2 regular season. London and Hamilton Blessed Sacrament followed, both at 20-4.