Lancers repeat as provincial champs
Crusaders hand Huskies first loss of season to keep boys crown
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The Dakota Lancers were not accustomed to adversity.
The defending provincial AAAA champs hadn’t lost a game on a Manitoba court in more than two years and Monday’s provincial varsity girls basketball final against a pesky Garden City Gophers squad planted a seed of doubt.
After a typically dominant start gave Dakota a big lead after the opening quarter, the Gophers ratcheted up the defensive pressure and outscored the Lancers 15-13 in the second quarter and crawled back into contention, down 35-21 at halftime.
It was as close as No. 3-seeded Garden City would get as Dakota regained control of the game in the second half en route to a 67-43 victory at Investors Group Athletic Centre.
“We weren’t taking anybody lightly,” said Dakota forward Kyu Fust, who scored 15 points, grabbed eight rebounds and blocked one shot on her way to tournament MVP honours. “Whoever was in the finals was obviously a good team… I think we worked really well as a team today. We trusted each other and helped each other up. It was good team win.”
In the varsity boys game, the No. 2-seeded St. Paul’s Crusaders captured their second consecutive provincial title with an 86-74 triumph over the unbeaten and top-seeded Sturgeon Heights Huskies before a raucous gathering of about 2,500 fans at IGAC.
Guard Darya Rom, who was named to the varsity girls all-star squad, had 12 rebounds, two blocks and a game-high 17 points for the Lancers. Another all-star, forward Izzi Fust, chipped in with 15 rebounds, three blocks and 12 points for the winners.
“I think defensively we came in and we did what we wanted to do and that was to slow them down in the transition,” said Garden City head coach Roberto Campanella Jr., whose club’s only loss of the season was 68-54 decision to the Lancers in the final of the St. Vital Invitational on Jan. 21. “We had a hard time scoring. It just wasn’t our night, we just couldn’t get the ball to go in the hoop.”
Madison Schettler led the way for the Gophers with 10 points while tournament all-star Halley Cruz added nine points.
“They should be really proud in their efforts, both defensively and on offence,” said Campanella. “I mean, they’re a great team with bigger athletes. At the end of the day, that’s how we had to play.”
Dakota coach Eric Sung was pleased with his team’s perseverance.
“The third quarter was pretty rough for us,” said Sung. “But you know what? This team’s foundation for the last couple of years has been at the defensive end. And if you look at that section of third quarter, nobody was really scoring and so we were both playing some tough defence on each other and the baskets that you got, you earned them.”
Rom was a major factor in the second half, as was forward Faith Larocque, who came off the bench to supply eight points and seven rebounds.
“Darya’s been really good for us defensively,” said Sung. “She guarded three of their key players today and was open to the challenge the whole time and made some key baskets. There was some really good offensive rebounding from both those girls and Hope shot the ball pretty well today, too.”
Dakota’s two-year reign atop the provincial basketball scene may not have reached the end of its natural cycle.
Although Kyu Fust was among four Grade 12 players to have played their final game in a Lancers uniform, Sung could have as many as nine players returning in 2023-24.
Provincial junior varsity MVP Taylor Schepp, who suited up for the Dakota varsity in the provincial final four, is also likely to earn a regular spot.
“It was a fun time,” said Kyu Fust. “I loved playing on the Dakota team and I’m so happy that I came here.”
Crusaders 86 Huskies 74
The third time was charm for St. Paul’s varsity boys team, which had dropped two earlier meetings this season against Sturgeon Heights. The Huskies posted a 93-83 win on Jan. 23 and added an 86-73 triumph in their conference final on March 3.
The Crusaders, led by tournament MVP Miguel Nitro’s 26 points, were chasing the lead until Brar Inderjeet’s three-pointer gave his team its first lead, at 52-49, with 5:15 remaining in the third quarter.
“It just started to open the game up for us a bit,” said Crusaders head coach Jeff Laping of Inderjeet’s shot. “I mean, they came back and took the lead right away again, but I think it just gave us a good lift. Hitting that shot was real energy for us.”
Tournament all-star Ramogi Nyagudi, who finished with 24 points, brought the house down with a spectacular dunk, one of four in the game, to give St. Paul’s a 73-66 edge with 5:05 left in the fourth quarter.
“He made plays both sides of the floor,” said Laping of Nyagudi. “He didn’t make a lot of outside shots today but he did hit a bunch of key baskets for us down the stretch.”
The Grade 11 forward, who will try out for the national U19 team next month, is expected to move to an out-of-province prep school next season.
“I’m super proud of him and I’m sure he’s really happy with this result and his last game with us,” said Laping.
Tournament all-stars Noah Kankam and Joassh Rocaberte had 20 and 22 points, respectively, for the Huskies.
All-star notes: The varsity girls all-star team also included Garden City’s Taya Clark and Paige Schatkowsky of the Vincent Massey Trojans… The varsity boys all-star team also included: Jeremiah Ige, Vincent Massey Trojans; and Jaden Holmes, Garden City.
Mike has been working on the Free Press sports desk since 2003.