Can the Sudbury 19U Jam girls surprise the field at the Basketball Ontario provincial championships two years in a row?
That is the question to be answered, beginning Friday night at the Toronto Pan-Am Centre.
One year ago, the Jam battled their way to a silver medal, despite being without starting point guard and tempo-pacer Ariane Saumure, due to illness.
With all hands on deck, including a few key additions to the roster, coaches Rick Filion and John Desormeaux and company are looking at mounting the podium, despite entering the event as the sixth seeded team in a field of eight.
"We are hungry for the win, it's our last year together," said 17-year-old grade 12 Lockerby Composite senior, Josée Filion. "We're more defensive. We focus on it a lot, practice it a lot. And we love shooting. Sometimes we have to find different ways to score, driving to the basket."
In fact, for the team veteran who has played alongside both Kate Dahmer and Arielle Douillette since grade six, a greater emphasis on offense has also been part of her evolution as a player, as she prepares to take her game to Belleville and the Loyalist Lancers of the OCAA in the fall.
"I think I am looking to score more now," she said. "Before, I would focus more on defense, because I didn't think I had the skill to score."
With a father as coach, it's a safe bet that Filion enjoys her fair share of basketball talk, a situation that can be both a blessing and a curse, at times.
"He expects me to do a lot on the court, expects me to do good every game, but we can also talk off the court, at home and stuff," she said. "He does a lot of one on one stuff with me to try and help me. But it's also good to have another coach like John."
It's also good when, at an age bracket where maintaining numbers can become a challenge, a pair of experienced club players fall on your lap, as was the case with the arrival of Celeste Dupuis and Gabby Arsenault from Huntsville.
"With the Huntsville girls, it just kind of clicked right away," said Filion. "They play the same way we like to, with fast transition. We had a connection."
"We weren't sure of we were going to have a team in Huntsville," said Dupuis, a grade 12 student (Huntsville High School) who has committed to the Nipissing Lakers OUA program for 2019-2020.
"Gabby and I had played in the summer with John and the Can Stars program. We really liked his style of play. I found that I developed so much in such a short time and I wanted to develop my game that much more. It's the best decision I could have made."
In fact, it was the ability of Desormeaux to ensure that his players think their game that, in the end, really paid off for Dupuis.
"I knew that I had the athleticism, but I needed help with the skill, but especially with the basketball IQ," she said. "We came from a team that played together a lot, so we just kind of did whatever we wanted. This year, we learned a lot about the fact that IQ is needed to play at the OUA level. I'm thankful for that.
"For me, it's about creating opportunities for myself and scoring opportunities for my teammates," Dupuis continued. "It's how to work with your teammates in the best way possible. It's hard to learn sometimes when the athleticism just kind of takes you and you just go."
For as much as their final year of youth rep basketball carries team expectations and high hopes at provincials, the backdrop is that virtually each and every one of the athletes on this team would relish the chance to take their game beyond high school.
A senior at Macdonald-Cartier, Arielle Douillette need not travel far to do so.
"I wanted to study in french, and I've been training with the Laurentian girls during the summers," said the soon-to-be Voyageur. "I'm comfortable with them - it's a great group of girls. And I get to stay home with my family. It is exciting to know that they will be able to come out and watch a lot of the games in Sudbury."
Still, as others who have come and gone before her can readily attest, court time must be earned. Minutes played are a by-product of the growth and development of your game.
"I really do need to work on my ball-handling," Douillette said.
"I'm known as a shooter, so I want to be able to attack the basket. I know at the next level, it's a lot more physical, so I need to get stronger to be able to keep up with the older girls."
Looking forward to beginning her off-season training with Cal McGibbon on the campus of L.U., immediately following provincials, the aspiring nurse (Douillette has enrolled in the Science Infirmière study stream, the francophone equivalent of the english Nursing program) is confident that she does have something to offer, even as a rookie with the team.
"I think my shooting is OUA ready," she said. "Because I have been training with them, we use the OUA (3-point) line. I'm getting used to being out a lot further. Hopefully, that will get me some minutes."
For one more weekend, however, her mindset is completely fixated on club ball, and the shot at one final Basketball Ontario medal.
"I think we really need to tighten up on defense," said Douillette. "One little layup can change a whole game. All teams, this year, are super duper close to each other. Any team can beat any other team, at any point in time."
Joining the Jam in Pool "B" are Basketball Wallaceburg, the Nepean Blue Devils and the Timmins Selects, while Stoney Creek NYB, the GCBA (Gloucester Cumberland Basketball Association) Wolverines, Guelph Knights and Pelham Panthers fight it out for supremacy in Pool "A".
Joining Filion, Dupuis, Douillette, Dahmer, Arsenault and coaches John Desormeaux and Rick Filion are Ariane Saumure, Harmony Martel, Cloe Douillette, Talia Eusepi, Grace Tressider, and assistant coach Larry Dahmer.
Also in attendance at the Pan Am Centre are coach Lisa Carruthers and the Sudbury U17 Jam girls, who needed a late season push to jump the rankings and grapple their way into the top eight grouping.
The 17U Jam, who open play Friday night against the Inter-City Saints in Brampton, feature a roster of Heidi Lamothe, Izzy Maki, Katrina Thai, Arianna Ghorbani, Kaya Walia, Giuia Wilson, Jazmin Fergani, Jasmine Savignac, Callie Moore, Vincenza Zulich and Zoe Legault.