The Macdonald-Cartier Panthères senior girls basketball team have some serious big game moxie.
Earlier this year, the team upset the Collège Notre-Dame Alouettes to capture the Franco Tournament in Brockville.
More recently, the relatively young squad overcame a 51-34 loss to the Korah Colts in their opening game at the NOSSA AA Championships, bouncing back to upend the Sault Ste Marie representatives 46-43 in the final.
And while an 0-3 record at the OFSAA Tournament in Windsor may have been a tad disapointing, the reality is that the squad will return the bulk of their starting roster next year, including 16-year-old Grade 11 first-year senior Clara Yanchuk.
"Honestly, it was a shocking thing that we won NOSSA," she said. "We improved so much this year. I remember our first game against St Ben's — we weren't really sure about our plays, how to run them. We've learned a lot of plays since then."
After scoring eight points in the NOSSA loss to Korah (Ariane Saumure led ESMC with nine), Yanchuk added another 11 points in the final, while Arielle Douillette exploded for 18 and Saumure chipped in with another nine.
The key for Macdonald-Cartier, however, came down to slowing Colts' sensation Tori Ivey, who lit it up for 24 points in game one, but was limited to just five in the rematch.
"We changed our game plan versus Korah," conceded Yanchuk. "We were forcing them to shoot, and luckily, their shots weren't dropping that game."
Blessed with a young roster that included the club basketball talents of Yanchuk, Saumure and Douillette, combined with the veteran presence of Lina Audet and Alexis Bélanger, and some size in the paint in the form of Samantha McGrath and Megan Hicks, Panthères head coach Sebastien Gervais was looking for good things, right out of the gate, with this crew.
"Based on the girls that showed up at tryouts, I thought that a deep enough playoff run was worthwhile," he said. "Knowing the history of basketball in the city, knowing some of the girls that are playing on other teams, you kind of get a pretty good idea of who is going to be strong."
More than anything, the success of Macdonald-Cartier would come down to the ability to blend together a nice cross-section of very natural talent on a highly athletic team.
"It's always tough when you're putting together a group of girls that play club, and putting them with a group of girls who unfortunately don't play club," said Gervais. "You've got girls that are playing year-round paired up with girls that are playing two months out of the year."
With the likes of Saumure and Douillette only in Grade ten, hope should spring eternal, as the Panthères expand their boundaries.
"I want the girls to enjoy the experience, I want them to see what good basketball is, and there's going to be some at OFSAA, for sure," said Gervais, before his team left for Windsor.
Facing the No. 3-ranked Notre Dame Fighting Irish from Burlington in game one, the SDSSAA reps kept it close, dropping a 50-44 decision as Saumure dropped in 17 points. The multi-sport talent would ramp it up even more, scoring 23 in game two as the Prince Edward Panthers from Picton edged ESMC 44-40.
Bumped into the consolation bracket, the locals drew an unlucky break, meeting up with the No. 5-seeded Stephen Leacock Lions of Scarborough, eliminated with a 56-45 loss.
The 2016 Panthères roster also included Kendra Roy, Tara Petitclerk, Sophie Laforest and Megan Paquet.