Eastern Commerce girls’ basketball team seeks OFSAA gold

The goal remains the same for Eastern Commerce’s senior girls’ basketball team: OFSAA gold.

Although the Saints fell short of that last season, coach Kareem Griffin believes the team now knows how much hard work and effort is required to go all the way.

With six players returning from the 2010 squad, Griffin said the Saints look like a team that can contend for the provincial title.

“Every year the goal is to win OFSAA, whether we have a down year or an up year, the goal stays the same,” Griffin told the Toronto Observer. “All the girls are pretty much on the same page as that.

“There’s a sense of togetherness with these girls so they understand what they have to do now and the sacrifices they have to give up.”

Guard Sami Hill, last year’s leading scorer, is back for a fourth year with the team and understands what level of intensity is required.

“I just think our team has a lot more chemistry this year so it’s a lot better,” Hill said. “We all knew what to expect this year and coming in that practices were going to be really tough but in the end it pays off.”

The hard work has benefited Griffin in the past as he guided the Saints to back-to-back OFSAA gold medals in 2007 and 2008. That goal is what he teaches his team.

“Honestly, it was kind of an overwhelming experience for me,” said Griffin, reflecting on the team’s championships. “It’s something you talk about that you preach to the kids.

“You never really expect it to happen so fast and when you do, it’s an amazing feeling. You set out a goal and when you meet it, it’s like you can’t believe it because not everyone wins OFSAA.”

As Griffin attempted to rebuild the team into a contender, he found it difficult preparing them for what to expect.

“It was kind of a rough patch, some of the girls didn’t understand the regimen,” Griffin said. “Some girls had never been pushed like this, the way our staff pushes the teams we usually coach.”

Last year saw Eastern Commerce defeat Northern in the 4A city final and qualify for OFSAA, but the Saints weren’t quite ready for the provincial championship, losing all three games.

“It was a real learning experience for a lot of the girls that were playing,” Griffin said. “We went to OFSAA but that was too much of a new experience for too many girls so they didn’t understand in terms of preparation and in terms of getting to the gold medal round.”

Guard Bilie Grant said not everyone on the team was on the same page, but things are different already this season.

“Last year, we were more like individuals playing as a team but this year it’s more like a family,” Grant said. “We all know that if we want to win, we need to have a certain level of intensity.”

Griffin now believes with Hill, Grant, guards Vaneil Simpson and Oonagh Webster, and forwards Tayla Gibb and Carlie Manners all returning, Eastern Commerce can complete its goal.

“It makes it a lot easier, they understand what to expect this year and they’re there to help each other,” Griffin said. “We now look like a team that can really get there and try to achieve that OFSAA gold medal and that’s pretty much where we’re striving to achieve now.”