Toilers claim 4A girls title after near-misses in recent finals
At times the Peacock Toilers girls basketball team made it look easy this season.
© submitted photo
The Peacock Toilers SHSAA 4A girls provincial champion basketball team includes head coach Renee Verge, back left, Alia Baigent, Libby Epoch, Shannon Patoine, Macaela Crone, Caitlyn Kitts, Ceanna Bruce, Madeline McDougall, manager Shailynn Taylor, coach Kristy Oonincx, coach Penny Maelde, Montana Legare-Short, front left, Courtney Azure, Zoe Tremblay and Emma Maelde.
But every last veteran on the Toilers team knows how hard it is to win a provincial championship.
Saturday the Toilers won the school's first provincial girls basketball championship since 1994 as they beat Notre Dame 75-51 in the 4A girls final.
The win was especially sweet for the returning players who lost by three points in the provincial final a year ago.
"I was so proud of how we played. It was the most amazing feeling ever," said Toilers senior Emma Maelde who was a starter a year ago. "We had a really good game plan in place and everyone executed it so well. We had an amazing start and from there it carried on."
Toilers head coach Renee Verge had guided the Toilers to the title game in three of the past four years. As the clock wound down some of the former players who lost in the final came over behind the bench before the celebration began.
"With about 45 seconds left Amy Williams came all the way across the gym and she was just absolutely a mess and in tears. Right behind her was my daughter (Tye Buettner)," said Verge. "It was very, very emotional for them because they have been there and they know what it feels like to get all the way there and not win it. To see the emotion on their faces showed how hard it is to get there and how significant it is to actually win it."
The two teams hadn't faced each other, but after watching Notre Dame in the semifinal the Toilers knew that the fast and athletic Hounds were going to be a tough foe. With a 5 p.m. tip-off time in Regina, the Toilers gathered in their gym and had a quick practice to go over some tactical adjustments they wanted to make before leaving the city.
"We want back to the drawing board after watching them play," said Verge. "We got the kids together in the gym and walked through some things that we knew we were going to have to implement in order to be successful against them. We changed our defence so that it took away some of their strengths a little bit."
Peacock didn't press the Hounds at all and instead dropped back and played a half-court defence.
Libby Epoch was given the ball to try to make a three-point shot to force overtime in the 2013 final. This year the Grade 10 point guard was unstoppable. She confounded the Hounds trap and even when they tried to triple-team her at times, she was still able to create offence for her team.
"Sometimes on the press there were quite a few people on me," said Epoch who said she had never been triple-teamed before. "I knew Macaela (Crone) could handle the ball well too. I tried to get the ball in and up the court before they could find me. We worked on our press break before the game and went through some of the things they were going to be running."
Epoch led all scorers with 28 points.
"I had such a bad feeling after last and now it's such a great feeling," said Epoch.
The Toilers didn't turn the ball over on the press and hustled back on defence to limit the Hounds ability to run on them.
"They're a very good pressing team and we had to make sure we didn't get caught in the press. When you have Libby — as strong of a ball-handler as she is — we were able to get out of trouble," said Verge. "They get so much momentum and so many points off of their press."
After a slow start in the 2013 final, the Toilers grabbed a quick lead and lead 40-20 at the half.
"We had a very explosive start," said Verge. "We shot very well and they struggled a bit with their shots."
The two Peacock teams played back-to-back games in the same gym which allowed them to have a massive crowd of orange behind them. It's the first time both the boys and the girls teams have won a provincial basketball title in the same year since 1956. Jack Gardiner coached the girls team in '56 and Nick Patola coached the boys at Moose Jaw Tech.
"Our fans were fantastic. It was just a really, really good day for our school and for our teams. It's was fun," said Verge.
The Toilers title in 1994 was a 5A title as Lindee Zieffle guided a talented Toilers team. They last won the 4A title in 1989 when Mark Albert was at the helm.