SWANàRIVERà-- The Winnipeg Blue 16-and-under girls basketball team proved they might be the squad to beat on the first day of the 2012 Manitoba Summer Games in Swan River.
Team Blue came out with a statement game to open the Games on Monday, trouncing Eastman 96-13.
"We've been training hard," Winnipeg Blue coach Karl Schroeder said. "We believe we're one of the top-four teams here and we came in with the expectation of competing for gold."
Later Monday, the girls defeated Parkland 81-17, to move to 2-0.
Schroeder is happy with how his team, made up of girls from different high schools throughout the city, has come together since tryouts in April.
"They are very comfortable with each other and have become really good friends," Schroeder said. "They are all talking about staying friends and keeping in contact because they really enjoy each other's company."
The chemistry that has developed within the team is something Schroeder, who coaches at Miles Macdonell Collegiate during the school year, paid close attention to early on, understanding that it was important to create a cohesive unit. That's something made challenging by the fact the girls are typically fierce rivals in the gym.
"Some of us are usually big rivals on the court," said 5-8, small-forward Chrystalle Omaga, who plays for Garden City Collegiate during the school year.
"We're like enemies," she added, speaking about the five MMC girls she now shares the court with. "We lost in the finals (of the Kilcona-Pequis Athletic Conference) to Miles Macdonell, but we just let them win this time, we'll get them next year."
In the beginning, the team of 12 girls, who have been practising together for close to three months now, were quiet as the group felt each other out and got to know one another on and off the court. And in the end, it may have been a trip away from the gym that solidified the team's bond.
"At first it was a little awkward because we are usually rivals on the court and now we have to be teammates, but we went on a trip to the beach and it really helped us get to know each other," Omaga said. "It's hard to gain the other players' trust at the start, but after a few practices everything fit in and friendships started. We all had our laughs."
Those sentiments were echoed by 5-5, point-guard Julia Schroeder, who suits up for Miles Mac during the school year and is used to playing, and sometimes even guarding, Omaga on the court.
"We are used to battling each other for rebounds and fighting it out and now we are together," Schroeder said. "We're a team now and it's all business when we're on the court, but to do some stuff together away from basketball made the bonds even stronger."
Friends now, the pair said all bets are off when they exchange their Winnipeg Blue jerseys for the colours of their high school teams and go back to playing against each other.
"I won't hesitate to run her over," Omaga said with a smile. "But we'll be friends off the court forever, we're like sisters now."
Monday's action was the first of six days of competition in Swan River, with Phase 1 events wrapping up Wednesday and Phase 2 sports starting on Thursday. The Games conclude on Saturday.
-- Brandon Sun