Port Colborne native Emma Koabel is one of five returning Niagara Prep players for the next season of the Ontario Scholastic Basketball Association. BERNIE PUCHALSKI

Niagara Prep reloads for next season

Unlike many basketball teams, Niagara Prep was lucky enough to see a conclusion to its season.

The team finished in first place in Ontario Scholastic Basketball Association West Division with an 18-1 record and ended up making it to the OSBA championship game before losing to Crestwood. Crestwood was the only team to beat Niagara in OSBA action that wrapped up prior to the March Break.

“We didn’t play very well in the final but I am happy with the result,” head coach Dave Picton said. “To finish second in the league in our second year, I am pretty happy with it.”

Like everyone, Picton and his team is dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic and the restrictions it has placed on normal life.

“You want to be on the court and we are missing out on a whole bunch of development stuff but we are doing a lot of cool video stuff,” he said. “We are figuring out the positive in it and trying to stay sane.”

Picton has Zoom meetings with his players once a week and the team is tracking the players’ academics as they conclude their school years at home. The players follow a strength and conditioning program and are able to access online training tools provided by the team. Picton has put together a series of videos on specific skills the players need _to work on.

Picton is hoping training can resume sooner rather than later.

“It is completely fluid and we are waiting for direction to come down whether it be from Basketball Ontario or the government,” he said. “We are going to follow the protocols but I don’t think there is going to be any summer ball.”

He is hoping for incremental improvements in the situation.

“If we can get to do some small team stuff outside, that is going to be the goal,” Picton said. “They all want to come back here and do some training.

“If they allow the gyms to open up for small groups, we will try and get that done.”

Niagara Prep loses five players to graduation, including Julia Colavecchia, University of Guelph; Maddie Picton, Western; Chloe Peters, Canisius; Sarah Te-Biasu, Virginia Commonwealth University; Donna Ntambue, University of Utah.

“It will range year to year but we knew we would have a big graduating class this year,” he said. “We have a lot of the junior NBA kids and a couple of other kids coming in.”

Local recruits are Natalie Picton and Gabriella DiPietro from Notre Dame, Corrynn Parker from Jean Vanier, Vienna Vercesi from A. N. Myer, and Sydney Piekny from E. L. Crossley.

Claudia Pellerin is transferring to Niagara Prep from Lo-Ellen Park in Sudbury and Kymora Stafford from Toronto is also joining the squad

Returning players are Sarah Harvey, Shailah Adams, Emma Koabel, Chantelle Blagrove and Sarah Williams.

A couple of local players have decided to leave the program and return to their original high schools. Janee Harrison will be back at Sir Winston Churchill and Alexis Wright will return to Centennial.

“It’s hard to see how much we do and how hard the kids have to work,” Picton said. “Socially and academically, it’s not as easy as just waking up and going to school. You have got to want to do it and it is a big commitment for the coaches too. You have to be committed.”

The program obviously isn’t for everyone.

“I am managing this as a university program per se and we are trying to bring in the right kids,” Picton said. “We don’t bring in all kinds of kids. We are trying to facilitate the proper roster of Niagara kids who have been in the [Niagara Girls Basketball Academy] program for a long time.”

He feels Niagara Prep is different than other OSBA programs.

“Everyone wants to win and be successful but for me, it’s getting the kids who want to be here and really want to play, develop, succeed at the next level and get themselves set up for life.”

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