By CLAUDE SCILLEY
Kingston Impact turned a corner in its Juel Ontario basketball season not long ago. How far that new path will take them toward a provincial title will be determined this weekend, when the local club hosts the league championship tournament at Queen’s University.
The Impact goes into the three-day event having had an interesting season. The team has won just five of 26 games—a modest improvement from the four it won a year ago—but though there were some genuine stinkers among the 21 defeats, 11 of them were by a margin of six points or fewer.
Of those games, one stands out.
It came three weeks ago, against the North Toronto Huskies in a tournament in Barrie. The Huskies, on their way to compiling a 21-5 record that would land them in second place in the 14-team league, was a team that defeated the Impact by 22 points in early February.
This time, however, the Impact took North Toronto to overtime. Kingston ultimately succumbed, but the outcome wasn’t the important thing.
“We unfortunately lost but it showed that we can be competitive with anybody in the league,” co-captain Chelsea Van Camp said. “Even though it was a loss, tying that team (in regulation time) changed our momentum and pushed us forward in a positive direction.”
Bridget Mulholland, the team’s other captain, agreed.
“It was a big confidence booster,” she said. “We showed a lot of heart in that game, that we could stick with them. Our intensity was up there. When we did get down, we didn’t let it keep us down; we kept on fighting the whole game.
“At the end of the day we made a lot of shots; the last few minutes we were hitting everything. It just showed that we can play with them.”
The light, it seems, had dawned.
“They’re 6-5, 6-3, 6-2 … and we beat them,” coach Paul Coulter said. “We beat them up. We took the battle to them; we out-rebounded them. That was a huge game for us, because I think (the players) said, ‘OK, coach isn’t just saying we can play with everyone, we actually can.’”
Whether the confidence gleaned from that victory, coupled with home-court advantage, provides enough of an impetus to turn those narrow defeats—in fact, the Impact lost twice by a point, once by two, once by three and twice by four points—into victories is a question the answer to which Coulter and his players are eager to find.
“I would love to say yes,” Coulter said. “We’re playing a team, the Blues, to whom we lost by three two weeks ago. They’re a very strong team, but we’re very confident that, since we know we can play with them, that we can go in our home town, in our home gym, and have a better performance.”
Despite the team’s record, Van Camp cautions anyone tempted to take the Impact lightly this weekend.
“Everyone under-estimates us,” she said. “I don’t think we can be underestimated, because we come out with full heart.
“Last year we were blown out of so many games, which really defeated our confidence. Our confidence is a lot better going into this tournament. Our shots started to drop this year, which really helped our confidence, and we played more cohesively as a team, which is a key to winning any game.”
Besides, Van Camp said, the Impact has nothing to lose.
“Being one of the bottom teams going in, we can only go up,” she said. “We’re all really excited to go into this weekend, because we know we have what it takes to win some games, and that positive outlook is going to help us.
“The tournament last year, we went into it pretty negative and had negative results. Hopefully that changes for us this year.”
Mulholland says the team will win more games “that a lot of people are expecting.” As the league’s eighth-best scorer (13.2 points per game), its third-best rebounder (9.9 per game) and 18th overall in assists, she’ll have a lot to do with that.
“Last year we had a lot of tough games where the final score wasn’t that close,” Mulholland said. “This year there hasn’t been a lot of that. They’ve all been really close games. We’ve won more than last year, and we had a lot of games that we could have won.
“We’re right there with a lot of teams in the league. It’s just a matter of putting everything together and making shots. It will all come down to this weekend and I think we’ll do really well. We have a lot of heart, we have a lot of kids who love basketball and want to play and want to continue, and that makes a big difference.”
The Impact, a team comprising girls in Grades 11 and 12, warmed up for the tournament with a scrimmage a week ago against some Queen’s University players, and Coulter was encouraged by what he saw.
“We were able to play with varsity athletes,” he said. “The focus was there.”
The Impact will play its first game on the main court of the Queen’s Athletics and Recreation Centre Friday afternoon at 1:30. Depending on the outcome, Kingston’s next game will be Saturday morning, either at 9 or 11 a.m.
Championship and bronze medal games will be played at 2:30 Sunday afternoon.
See the complete schedule at http://www.juel.ca/scores.php