Micah Dennis (left) drives against Elle Cooney

Micah Dennis (left) drives against Elle Cooney

On November 25, 2017, the St Joseph’s-Wellesley Bears of Toronto, ON defeated the Cardinal Newman Cardinals of Stoney Creek by a score of 46-41, to win the 2017 OFSAA (Ontario High School) 3A Championship.

Micah Dennis led the Bears with 18 points and was instrumental in guiding her team to victory in the Gold Medal game that took place in Guelph, On.

With his team’s Gold Medals in hand, St. Joseph’s Head Coach, Paul Weekes was immediately reflective of the how a lot of things fell into place for his Bears.

“I knew that this was the year”, said St Joseph’s Head Coach Paul Weekes, pleased his team played up to their potential. “I have watched a lot of teams go through OFSAA with the maturity, understanding how to compete at a high-level. We definitely saw that today from St Joe’s.”

Although the game only featured a couple of lead changes, it was a hard fought game filled with much of the high level of game play that one would expect from a Championship game at this level.

St Joe’s brought the energy early, starting off the game on a 11-5 run. It was a lead that would eventually grow a a 24-14 by halftime, with the help of timely scoring from Sydney Fearon’s 9 first half points.

At that point, the approaches for the two teams appeared set. For St. Joe’s, they would rely on gritty hustle and speed, through Dennis, their starting Point Guard, and their captains Paulla and Anika Weekes. Newman’ success in this one would be contingent upon the perimeter play of Renata Djuravcevic and how we she would be able to penetrate to the basket, and how well they could leverage Tatyanna Burke’s inside presence.

“We should never take an opponent lightly. I think that was a valuable lesson last year. They knew coming in this year the we’re not going to take anyone lightly”, said Weekes about the mindset his team had coming into the game.

With this in mind, the Bears maintained their 10 point, 32-22 cushion, until very late in the third quarter.

The approach, which had been working for the Bears, was tested when the Cardinals looked to shift momentum with about a minute left in the third quarter.

Forcing a Bears turnover on a Djuravcevic steal and fast break score, along with some stops on the defensive end, which they also converted to points, the young Cardinal Newman team with only one Senior, closed out the third frame on a 5-0 run, to narrow the margin to 32-27.

The Cardinals’ third quarter run continued their push. Led by Djuravcevic’s 8 points returning from the halftime break, they outscored the Bears 13-8.

That run appeared to turn the tide of the game, setting up for a great fourth quarter finish.

The fourth quarter saw a few key plays that added to the drama. This first of which was a drive by Dennis that drew some Ooos and Ahhs from fans with about 7:30 left to play in the quarter. After a couple of plays that left the Bears empty handed due to some tight defence, she drove in a 1-on-1 situation, got her defender off balance with a killer cross-over allowing her to drive the lane for a score after being fouled. She and completed the ensuing foul shot for the 3-point play.

Renata Djuravcevic

Renata Djuravcevic drives into Bears’ territory

Later on in Quarter, the Cardinals’ Djuravcevic stole the ball in the open court and was off to the races, for what seemed to be a sure two points. Realizing what was at stake, the Bears’ Anika Weekes ran her down and attempted to block the layup. In the attempt, Weekes sent the Cardinals leading scoring tumbling by what the refs called Unsportsmanlike conduct after the basket actually went in. This gave the Cardinals a shot, which she sunk, and the ball, and only being down by two, with just under five minutes remaining.

With great fan support and mounting Bear foul troubles, the Cardinals completed the comeback after a Katumina Mansaray 3-pointer and Elle Cooney score, actually taking the lead with just over two minutes left to play.

There is something to be said for having experienced a big game on this level, like St Joe’s had the year before (when the Bears lost the 2016 OFSAA 3A Gold Medal game to AB Lucas from London, ON).

Composure was the narrative that Coach Weekes kept in the back of his mind, and wanted to make sure his girls were mindful down the stretch.

“I think that even with Anika [Weekes] fouling out, I already knew that we had a strong bench”, he said, alluding to the Unsportsmanlike call that was made at a pivotal point in the game.

“We have to play what the referees call. They’re the ones that have the ultimate decision. We saw the maturity from two years ago and last year and have seen growth.”

Tatyanna Burke (left) jockeys for rebound with Paulla Weekes

Tatyanna Burke (left) jockeys for rebound with Paulla Weekes

Their poise and confidence allowed them to close things out. They scored down the stretch when it counted and coupled that with some key stops on the other end of the floor, holding off Cardinal Newman for the win.

The win avenged a 2016 loss in the Finals by a then younger Bears Team who returned many key contributors from last year’s team. Key additions of a few pieces helped to round out the roster and give the Bears a winning formula.

“I think that one of the biggest points was our addition of Micah Dennis”, said Weekes about his standout Point Guard. “I think that is what helped us to clinch it [this year].”

Forever embracing good competition, the Bears’ Coach had some good things to say about the province’s 3A Silver Medalists

“They’re a good team. They are young. So, like everything else, there comes maturity. I hope they take this year as a good lesson for next year because I think they are all back. They’ll be very tough next year for sure.”

With the win, St Joseph’s-Wellesley become the first Toronto Catholic school team to with an OFSAA Girls Basketball Championship. And for Weekes to help the team do so, and have two graduating twin daughters on the team made it all the more special.

“My daughters,” Weekes started off glowingly, “We have come a long way and I think that they’ve given me everything they’ve got. This is very good for them going into next year. They are both going off to university, and I hope they can just take this memory and just kind of remember the hard work and take it forward.”

Scoring:
St Joseph’s:
Micah Dennis – 18 points
Sydney Fearon – 9 points

Cardinal Newman:
Renata Djuravcevic – 18 points
Tatyanna Burke – 11 points

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