May 26, 2019

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Friends off the court, heated rivals on it

Oak Park and Vincent Massey stars could clash in provincial high school girls basketball final

RUTH BONNEVILLE / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS</p><p>Grade 12 post Debbie Nkiasi is one of the leaders on the Vincent Massey Trojans squad.</p>

RUTH BONNEVILLE / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

Grade 12 post Debbie Nkiasi is one of the leaders on the Vincent Massey Trojans squad.

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 13/3/2018 (438 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

Debbie Nkiasi and Claire Signatovich are good pals off the basketball court.

On Monday, however, they plan to revert to “frenemy” mode during the varsity girls final at the Milk AAAA Provincial High School Basketball Championships.

“We’re really good friends, but on the court, it’s a really good battle,” Signatovich said Tuesday afternoon. “Debbie’s a really aggressive player — clean, but she’s really aggressive and good at boxing out. It’s definitely a battle between the two us us for rebounds and position on the block.”

Signatovich’s Oak Park Raiders and Nkiasi’s Vincent Massey Trojans, the province’s first- and second-ranked teams, respectively, appear to be on a collision course. But they have some important work to do first. The same teams met in last year’s final, with Oak Park earning the title.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 13/3/2018 (438 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

Debbie Nkiasi and Claire Signatovich are good pals off the basketball court.

On Monday, however, they plan to revert to "frenemy" mode during the varsity girls final at the Milk AAAA Provincial High School Basketball Championships.

"We’re really good friends, but on the court, it’s a really good battle," Signatovich said Tuesday afternoon. "Debbie’s a really aggressive player — clean, but she’s really aggressive and good at boxing out. It’s definitely a battle between the two us us for rebounds and position on the block."

Signatovich’s Oak Park Raiders and Nkiasi’s Vincent Massey Trojans, the province’s first- and second-ranked teams, respectively, appear to be on a collision course. But they have some important work to do first. The same teams met in last year’s final, with Oak Park earning the title.

Signatovich, a hard-rebounding forward who runs the floor expertly, and Nkiasi, a forceful 6-0 post in Grade 12, have been frequent teammates on club teams and were members of the provincial team during the Canada Games.

On Thursday, the Raiders take on the No. 5 Sturgeon Heights Huskies (20-9 and making their first Final Four appearance in program history) in one semifinal, while the Trojans (21-6) tangle with the No. 3 Glenlawn Lions (19-9) in another.

The Raiders have dominated the provincial scene in 2017-18, going 28-1, with their only loss coming on the road in a tournament final to Edmonton’s Jasper Place.

"I think (coach Murray) Brown has high expectations for our team, as we all do," said Signatovich, who was a starter in Grade 10 last season. "We’ve been practising really hard through the year, five times a week, and so I think we have a shot. But we really have been grinding out this season."

The results of four previous head-to-head matchups don’t bode well for the Trojans, who lost all four, including two blowouts early in the season. Don’t be fooled, said Brown, who lost two starters from last year’s squad.

"In the conference final, they were up 10 points going into the fourth quarter," said Brown, whose teams have won two provincial titles and reached the Final Four nine times in the previous nine seasons. "We had to make a comeback, but they got a lot better. Massey’s got better and better every time we’ve played them.

"They cause us a lot of problems. Debbie is a big, athletic kid, rebounds really well. They’ve got a couple of shooters, they handle the ball really well, but more than anything, they defend really well. It is a tough matchup, but we’ve got a tough game (against Sturgeon Heights) to get there."

Massey has thrived despite the departure of star forward Niyah Becker, who’s currently attending Lincoln Prep Academy in Hamilton, before she heads to the University of Utah on a basketball scholarship next fall.

The transition, Trojans head coach Stacy Hawash said, has been fairly seamless.

"It’s been a really good experience for our team, they’ve worked really, really hard," Hawash said. "The group we had was pretty close-knit anyways."

Nkiasi, who committed last fall to play at the University of Winnipeg next season, concurs.

"It’s really no different," Nkiasi said. "Honestly, the energy and the atmosphere within the team is just the same."

Only time will tell if the Trojans or any other team can dethrone the Raiders, who rate as one of the finest squads Brown has led in his 31 years at Oak Park.

"We’ve been fortunate over the years to have some pretty good teams," Brown said. "Back in 2013 (another provincial championship team), we had six kids who went on to play university. It’s a really good team. It’s hard to rank them, but (the current team is) not very far from the best if they aren’t (the best)."

mike.sawatzky@freepress.mb.caTwitter: @sawa14

Mike Sawatzky

Mike Sawatzky
Sports Reporter

Mike has been working on the Free Press sports desk since 2003.

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