There will be no three-peat for the Garden City Fighting Gophers varsity boys basketball team.
Seeded No. 1 in the province, the back-to-back provincial champs fell 84-68 to the eighth-seeded Sisler Spartans in the quarterfinals of the Milk Provincial "AAAA" Basketball Championships on Sat., March 15 at Garden City Collegiate.
During an interview with The Times prior to the loss, Garden City coach Phil Penner said the team would be in tough, despite being number one going into the game.
"This year is probably as wide open as I’ve seen it in my 17 years," Penner said. "There’s not a dominant team. There are really 11 teams out of the 12 that could knock people off. It’s the most parity I’ve seen."
Despite the disappointing end to the season, Penner had nothing but good things to say about the squad, which included five Grade 12 players from last year’s championship team.
"I think we have a really good mix of players. I think we play really well as a team," Penner said. "I think defensively we do a good job. We’re a little undersized. We’re probably the smallest team in the province, so rebounding is always an issue for us, but we’ve got some smart players that play as a team, and the guys work really hard."
Penner said he was particularly impressed with Grade 12 players Jared Kashton, Arel Cansino and Jowel Shuffler this season, but noted senior Byron Oduca shone in particular. The Grade 12 guard was a bench player last season, but earned a starter role in 2013-2014.
"He’s really quick and defends very well," Penner said. "Offensively, he can pretty much do it all. He can shoot the three, has a great midrange game, and he can take it all the way to hole and finish even though he’s not that big. He’s just really crafty. He’s been our go-to guy for most of the year."
Oduca, who said he stands 5-10 or "5-11 on a good day", said his greatest strength is driving to the net.
"I think I’m a scorer. I think my main role is to slash (drive to the net), and I also help get my other teammates open," Oduca said.
"I think I use my speed and as a team we really use our speed so I think I work perfectly with my team."
Oduca said Penner is a good coach who had the Fighting Gophers physically and mentally prepared for every game this season, with the team practicing three plus hours a day.
"We don’t give up, even in the harder games. What we do best is we keep going at it and have that fighting spirit," Oduca said.