The Mennonite Brethren Collegiate Hawks varsity boys’ basketball team has had its on-court leadership in place for the past four years.
Now that their off-court leadership is back in the saddle, they’re making a move up the provincial rankings.
The Hawks, playing second fiddle to the top-ranked Garden City Fighting Gophers in the Manitoba High Schools Athletic Association "AAAA" rankings for much of the season, feel they have a chance to secure the school’s first varsity boys’ basketball title this year. After two years away from the school working as a marketing director for Wallace & Wallace, head coach Jon Goossen is preparing the charge in his 21st season overall helming the team.
With an eye toward qualifying for, and peaking at, the Milk Provincial "AAAA" Basketball Championships from March 14 to 24, the Hawks are implementing a new system of attack in order to maximize its speedy, aggressive approach. Guard Matt Dyck said the system starts with good defence and rebounding to get possession before getting the ball out to the wings, avoiding a crush of bodies in the middle of the floor.
"We’re working inside out, which is better than just working from the outside," Gurinder Gill, a Grade 12 student, said.
"It’s more structured — it gives our best players an opportunity where they can score the ball, and it forces us to move without the ball, which is big," added guard Matt Dyck, also in Grade 12.
Standing in the way will be Garden City, the two-time defending champion that provides formidable competition once again. Three of the Hawks’ five losses this season have come at the Gophers’ paws, including in the Wesmen Classic championship game and in the Winnipeg Invitational Tournament semifinal.
"They’ve all been very close games, and our second time with them, we were disappointed that we didn’t come through because we were ahead by quite a bit," Goossen said. "It’s a nice rivalry in that regard – we’re looking forward to meeting up some time in the end, but we’ll see how that all unfolds."
Garden City isn’t the Hawks’ lone strong foe in the Kilcona Peguis Athletic Conference, as Kildonan-East is also in the Top 10, and Maples has just one loss this year.
Gill, 17, said the Hawks often play beyond themselves, swarming opposing attacks to shut them down.
"We play small, but our small guys play big, if that makes sense," Gill said. "We have four guards out there, but two of them can guard pretty much any position on the court. It makes match-up problems all over the place."
Dyck and Derek McKnight have played together since elementary school, with Gill joining the current group for his Grade 9 season. Now, the three serve as team captains for the Hawks, and get regular court time with one another.
"We play club together (with Winnipeg Team Mayhem), so we pretty much play together all year round," McKnight, a guard, said. "We’re all really good friends, so we hang out off the court, play pickup at the Y, so we have really good chemistry and play really well together."