The Charlottetown Rural Raiders are looking to continue to improve as they hit the crunch time for their basketball season.
The boys’ team is 17-3 so far this year and is gearing up for a run at a provincial championship in late February.
“It’s not how well you play before Christmas that matters. It’s how well you play after Christmas and going into playoffs,” said coach Mike Lloyd.
The Raiders tip-off their Confederation City Classic Basketball Tournament tonight with a 7:30 p.m. game with Bluefield.
“Even though we have done very well in the high school league in P.E.I. this year it’s still a wide-open league,” Lloyd said.
“I think it would be fun for people to come out this weekend and watch games in the tournament and get a feel for some of the various teams.”
He said Three Oaks and Colonel Gray are strong teams while Bluefield and Westisle have improved.
Tournament games between Island teams count towards the league standings as long as the teams still have a chance to win the tournament.
After this weekend, the Raiders are playing in the Coal Bowl Classic in New Waterford, Cape Breton. Both competitions have lots of teams and are good barometers for the team as it looks to peak at the right time.
“We want to use those two tournaments as building blocks for the playoffs,” Lloyd said. “It’s the playoffs at the end of the year that matter.”
The team has played most of the first half without its top offensive player, Noah Giddings. He returned to practice Monday, but had to shut it down after feeling his knee tighten up. His status for the tournament was not clear.
“The positive side of things is we have very good young players,” Lloyd said.
The Confederation Classic is the second most important tournament of the season, behind only the playoff, said Rural girls’ coach Tressa Lloyd, Mike’s daughter.
“It’s a big deal for us. It would be awesome to be able to win our own tournament,” said the second-year coach. “That’s one of our goals at the start of the year.”
The girls open the tournament tonight at 5:30 p.m. against Bluefield.
The Raiders are led by versatile post Jessica Patenaude, who committed late last year to playing at UPEI in 2013-14.
“She would play point guard if I let her,” Lloyd said of the Grade 12 player. “She loves the game.
“She definitely treats basketball like we’re a family.”
The team has two starting guards who are Grade 10s. Abbey Hurley and Sarah Steele have been steady players handling the ball for the Raiders this season.
Steele is a key shooter from the outside while Hurley is an aggressive player who has been driving to the basket more in recent action.
“If I tell them we need to go out and get a rebound, (Hurley’s) going to go and get it for me, even though she’s a guard,” Lloyd said. “She wants the ball. She plays with so much heart.”
The team plays a controlled style of offence.
“We like to keep it at our pace,” Lloyd said. “There’s a lot of times when I just tell the girls, ‘We need to play our game. We need to slow the game down.’”
The team is currently third in the standings and has steadily progressed this season.
Need to know
Confederation City Classic Basketball Tournament
What: A 23-team high school basketball tournament. It includes 12 boys and 11 girls teams. There are teams from across the Maritime provinces.
Where: Charlottetown Rural, Colonel Gray, Three Oaks, Bluefield, Holland College, UPEI, Stonepark, Queen Charlotte.
When: Today to Saturday
Bluefield at Charlottetown Rural, 5:30 p.m.
Bluefield at Charlottetown Rural, 7:30 p.m.
Finals: Saturday, girls at 2 p.m. and boys at 4 p.m. Both at Charlottetown Rural