Holy Trinity Academy rode its depth and stifling defence to back-to-back league titles.
The Knights survived an early scare to overwhelm the Notre Dame Collegiate Timberwolves 84-48 in the Foothills Athletic Council senior boys basketball championship Saturday at the Okotoks school.
“Sam (Knights coach Sam Aiello) runs an excellent program and if we can make them sweat a little bit, get under their skin then I’m happy,” said Timberwolves head coach Jeff Roman. “Coming out with intensity, I think we really stepped up that first quarter and they have such a deep bench that we really couldn’t match their size and skill coming off the bench.”
The Knights were in for a slugfest from the opening tip-off.
Notre Dame Collegiate, a 2A school compared to HTA’s 4A status, took control in the early going with a 7-2 run to start the contest.
“That was a good kick in the butt for us to get going,” said Knights guard Eli McKitrick. “And to start working hard.”
The Knights got the message, pounding the glass on both sides of the court and using the length of posts Kessler Bishop, Carson McKenzie and Justin Cyr to create ample second opportunities.
“We were going to do whatever it took to get a win,” McKitrick said. “Everyone was in that mindset we’re here now, we’ve had a long season. We’re going to do whatever it takes, I don’t care if it’s 20 rebounds, 20 assists, hitting the floor, we were going to do it.”
The Knights found their outside shooting in the second quarter as guards Matt Scharien and Riley Thorn canned step back threes to make it a 36-24 advantage at the half.
“Notre Dame is a very good team for a 2A school,” said Knights coach Sam Aiello. “They play hard, they have good shooters, they’re coached well. We knew that going in, we knew they were going to push us.
“Down the stretch, the depth of our bench is probably what won us the game, we were a little deeper, they were a little more tired at the end of the game. We’re a 4A school, we should have a deeper bench.”
The strength in numbers truly showed itself in the second half – on both sides of the floor.
“The second thing that won it for us was really good defence,” the coach added. “Last time we played them they scored 72 points and we held them to 48 today.”
McKenzie put an exclamation point on the dominance with a two-handed dunk in transition as the Knights put up 44 points in the final two quarters.
“We come into these types of games knowing we’re coming up against a really strong program,” Roman said. “Our mindset is always on zones to keep it focused against teams our size. That was always our goal for the season.
“Going deep into league and getting to play HTA in a final is a bit of a cherry on top for us.”
Roman is a former Knight who played under Aiello. Matching wits with his former coach never gets old for the understudy.
“We get to see each other quite a bit, not only coaching against each other,” Roman said. “It’s always fun coming back here and seeing those guys and getting to sit in the stands before the game with my former basketball, volleyball coaches and principal. It’s a really cool experience.”
Notre Dame Collegiate competes as the top seed in the 2A zones in Brooks this week.
The Knights move on to the 4A South Central Zone championship in Chestermere.
HTA battled the host Chestermere Lakers on March 6. They take on the Foothills Falcons at 7:45 p.m. on March 7 at Chestermere.
The two teams with the top record move onto the zone championship on March 10 with a spot in provincials on the line.
“I like our chances for sure,” McKitrick said. “Foothills is going to be a fight to the very last second and it’s going to be a good game. Chestermere we’ve played them before and handled them well so I think we’re going to do well in that area.”