The Niagara Rangers under-19 men’s basketball team has high hopes going into the Ontario Cup championship tournament in Markham this weekend.
Niagara finished the regular season tops among the second tier of teams in the province and is anticipating some stiff competition from teams such as Barrie, East York and Kitchener-Waterloo.
“The Ontario Basketball Association takes who they rank as the top eight teams and run what they call the ‘Provincial Championship’ with those eight,” says Rangers head coach Jonathon Thorpe of Niagara-on-the-Lake.
Those provincial finals are being played in Pelham.
“The Ontario Cup is for the teams ranked ninth to however many teams there are. The teams ranked ninth to 16th make up Division 1 of the Ontario Cup and so on.”
That’s where Niagara is competing. There are five more divisions below theirs.
“Of the three teams in our division that we have played, our record is three wins and one loss, having played Collingwood twice,” Thorpe said.
“But there are four other teams that we have never seen, so you never know what to expect.”
The Rangers’ Ontario Cup tournament gets under way Friday at 6:30 p.m. at Bill Crothers Secondary School in Unionville when they take on the Barrie Royals in the first pool A game.
On Saturday, they play the East York Eagles and Kitchener-Waterloo Vipers.
On Sunday, teams from pool A and B will tip off at St. Augustine Catholic Secondary School in Markham with opponents determined based on how teams ranked after their first three games.
The top team in each pool will play for gold and the second-place teams will vie for bronze medals.
The Rangers, a regional team with players from NOTL, St. Catharines and Niagara Falls, has had a stellar run this season.
They played in two tournaments this year and won one of them. In regular season play, they dominated their division in the first half of the season so much that they were moved up one level.
“Then we won that division,” Thorpe said.
“We are 16-4 this year and many of those wins were against teams that were initially ranked higher than us.”
But the coach says the games are about more than wins and losses.
“Seeing these young men conduct themselves with class, work hard for each other, be willing to play whatever role they are asked for the good of the team, be committed to the team and being a pleasure to coach are all way more rewarding aspects of this season than any win-loss record,” Thorpe said.
“And hopefully those are the parts of this season that they will carry with them for a lifetime.”
“I always tell my teams that one weekend or one game doesn’t make or break a season. So, we are certainly feeling very confident going into this weekend but also not hanging everything on the outcome as to whether this was a successful season or not.”