CANMORE – An elusive basketball banner is on the minds of the Canmore Wolverines senior boys after they took a bite out of the competition to start the season.
The local high school team crushed the Olds Spartans 75-48 in Saturday’s (Dec. 2) gold medal game at the 2023 Rocky Mountain Classic in Canmore, going 3-0 in the two-day tournament to go along with a buzzer-beater highlight reel.
Brian Victorio led the Wolverines’ on the score sheet with 20 points. Zack Reinhardus added 17 and Jonah Chiniquay scored 16.
“It could possibly be my last year, so I want to win [a banner] with these boys,” said 16-year-old guard Chiniquay, who suited up for Team Alberta at the North American Indigenous Games last summer.
“There’s a lot of characters on this team, a lot of funny people. Overall, we’re all just friends and have good chemistry with each other. It’s something any team should have.”
Despite having had only four practices, the Wolverines’ on-court product was a solid balance of offence, mixing threes and attacking the paint, and defence, getting in the faces of opponents and forcing bad shots and turnovers.
“We’re still trying to figure out our players and which group works together,” said coach Jordie Mark. “I worked with [the core group] last year, and I know how they are, so it’s just implementing the new guys and seeing who works together well and that was the main challenge for me.”
Following a close 68-62 victory over Bow Valley rival the Banff Bears, the Wolverines were in a high-stakes semifinal against the Springbank Phoenix.
Though things weren’t looking great for the Wolverines late in the fourth when they were down by three with 17 seconds left.
On the ensuing inbounds play, the ball went into the hands of Chiniquay who rifled a pass to one of the other team leaders, Gabe Bongbong. Playing hero-of-the-day, Bongbong sent the game into overtime after sinking a soul-crushing three-pointer with two seconds left.
#Canmore Wolverines’ Gabe Bongbong sends this game to OT after hitting a three with 2 seconds left against Springbank. The winner advances to the finals of Canmore’s senior boys tourney. pic.twitter.com/0zBWvcX9No— Jordan Small (@jordiesmall) December 2, 2023
Rebounding drills should be at the top of the Phoenix’s practice list this week after Bongbong had two chances to tie it at the most crucial moment of the game. The Canmore guard missed an off-balance triple that ricocheted off the front iron, which Bongbong then snatched all the way out at the top of the three-point line and launched again.
As the ball rattled through the hoop and the local crowd cheered with their team, the Phoenix players were stunned that it was all tied up at 76.
“We were supposed to run a play and we didn’t run it properly, so I got the ball and I just shot it,” said Bongbong. “My teammate Andrew Gerrits and I both went for the ball, and I grabbed it and just shot it and it went in, luckily.”
Broken play or not, the Wolverines had all the momentum in the extra five minutes and knocked off the Phoenix 84-79 to advance to the finals against the Spartans, which defeated the Wolverines’ JV boys in the semifinals.
Though an all-Wolverines match-up didn’t go down, the better finals-bound squad was established in a hurry.
The senior Wolverines set the tone in the first quarter with three early steals, including a pair from the quick-handed Chiniquay, that led to six fast-break points.
The local boys led by nine after the first. When Canmore’s second unit checked in, anchored by the versatile attack of Victorio, the lead grew to 26 points by halftime.
The senior boys held on to the big lead in the final two quarters, cruising to an easy tournament championship and their third consecutive year winning the home tourney.
After the tournament, the dream of winning a provinical banner is very much alive among the Wolverines.
“That’s the No. 1 goal, to put Canmore on the map [for basketball]. That’s the goal,” said Bongbong.
Despite mostly everything going in favour of the Wolverines in the finals, they couldn’t find their stroke beyond the arc, shooting a rough 4-for-30. But hey, when their biggest lead was 32 points you can afford to chuck up some bricks.
In other local results from the tourney, the Wolverines’ JV boys finished fourth overall. The Banff Bears’ senior team lost to Highwood Mustangs in the consolation final, and the Our Lady of the Snows Avalanche finished eighth.