By Lorena Rodgers
Stirling High School basketball has had a stellar season this year with both Varsity teams finishing the regular season undefeated.
A 1A-size school, the boys’ teams are playing at 2A level, and Varsity did not take a loss in regular season games. Having played at 2A, they won the provincial banner the past two years and took second place the year before. The girls play 1A and won provincials last year.
Coach Bryce Coppieters said students look forward to being Stirling Lakers from when they are very small. “Basketball does not just start in high school. Basketball began for most of these players as young kids. They came to the gym dreaming about being Lakers.”
Girls’ coach Donna Branch said success is about learning the basics and building good people, not just good players. “Our success is based on developing good character, hard work and an emphasis on the fundamentals of basketball,” said Branch, a former university basketball coach. “I am a coach who teaches strong fundamental basketball. I expect the girls to perform the skills of basketball in the proper way and I spend time on this every practice. You have to have good shooters and girls that can defend. I also ask a lot of questions so that the girls understand the game.”
Coaches say individual talent of their players is also a factor, and the players’ leadership is a big part of the formula for success. “This year we have a talented group of Grade 11s and 12s. We also have a strong core of Grade 9 girls playing JV and SV basketball. I have always had a strong group of girls who enjoy playing basketball. That is a culture that is established
in Stirling. The young girls can hardly wait for their time playing organized basketball,” said Branch.
Coppieters agrees. “We were very fortunate to have many players on this years team with a lot of experience. These players play for their community, their school, their families, their coaches and themselves. There have been certain players step up this year to help lead this team. Steele Stef, Lane Still and Kyle Selk have done every well this year. Scott Mazutinec has been injured this year but even his presence around the team has been influential,” he said. “These players practice and play as a unit and I believe that the mentorship they display for the younger players will pay dividends in the future.”
One advantage Branch sees of being from a small town is that the players already know how to work together, a very important part of how she develops a successful team. “The girls all know each other and spend a fair bit of time together in the gym and out of the gym. We also have strong community and parental support. These girls play the game together and are supportive and proud of each other.”
The community is another part of the success. “There is a saying that goes, ‘It takes a community to help raise a child.’ I can honestly say that is also takes a community to raise good basketball teams,” said Coppieters. He said that financial support from the whole community through their Adopt-a-Laker program and other fundraisers helps the school carry out their basketball program.
“The kids love to play basketball. There are not many team sports in Stirling. The top two sports in Stirling would be Volleyball and Basketball. Some kids play football in Raymond and Lethbridge, but basketball is king here.”