The Team North girls basketball squad, that opens play today at the 2012 Ontario Summer Games in Toronto, represents a true cross-section of talent from Huntsville to Thunder Bay.
And the faces of Sudbury will be among those who are front and center. In fact, Marianne Alarie (Lo-Ellen Park) and Laura Graham (Lasalle Secondary) have been named co-captains of the crew that is under the guidance of the Sault Ste. Marie coaching tandem of Matt Oliveira and Katie Hamilton.
The northern ladies open play with games against South Simcoe and the Capital Region, looking to crack the top two spots in their pool to earn a berth to the Sunday semifinals.
At just 14 years of age, Graham is a full year younger than the majority of her teammates. Still, she maintained a clear vision of the task ahead as she competed at team tryouts earlier this spring.
"A lot of people have told me that I am known for my defence, so I just wanted to showcase what I am best at," Graham said. "Just show a lot of hustle on defence."
A veteran of both the school and club basketball scenes, Graham acknowledged that taking to the court, in the early stages, with Team North represented something of a different landscape for her.
"Most of the teams I've played on, I'm used to the girls, because I've been playing for so long," Graham said. "Most of these girls, I haven't played with before. I'm excited to play with them — it's been a lot of hard work for the past few months."
While the Summer Games might present an eye-opener to the young ladies on the court, the same cannot be said for at least part of the coaching staff.
"This is primarily about giving back for me," Hamilton, the women's head basketball coach at Sault College, said. "I grew up in the program. Ever since I was about 10 years old, I played BDP, MDP, JDP all the way through."
In fact, Hamilton was a Summer Games participant, back in the summer of 1998, when the event was hosted by the City of Guelph.
Competitive by nature, Hamilton understands the natural hurdles that come part and parcel of geographic realities in the north.
"This program is all about skill development," she said. "We only have 30 hours to train together and with the north, we have girls all the way from Huntsville to Thunder Bay. Putting in a really detailed system would be difficult."
If the northern contingent in some Summer Games sports realistically target merely reasonable competitiveness as the ultimate goal, the same cannot be said for Hamilton.
"We have always been in the top four or five," she said. "Our expectation is to win. Sometimes in the north, we go in with mediocrity on our minds and anything we get on top of that is bonus. That's really a mindset that I think we need to change."
It's a change that can begin to show, in earnest, over the next few days as play continues on the campus of York University.
The 2012 roster for Team North includes: Marianne Alarie, Shelby Ernst and Laura Graham of Sudbury, Diane Begin and Ariane Lefebvre of North Bay, Jesse Bjornaa and Tianna Mageron of Sault Ste. Marie, Kayla Deschatelets of Timmins, Aliisa Heiskanen and Shannon McKitrick of Thunder Bay, Taylor McAlpine of Huntsville and Alexandra Trahan of Kirkland Lake.