Commitment of St. Pat’s junior girls team pays off on the court

The St. Patrick’s Junior Girls’ Basketball team are LKSSAA champions. Pictured are, back row, from left: Co-head coach Maggie Mullen, Myah Lauzon, Jamison Turner, Kaitlyn Carlton, Keira Aikman, and co-head coach Kelsie James. Front row (from left): Maliyah Ogorek, Hayley VanHooft, Katie Coenjarts, and Kate Harding. Submitted photo.

Tara Jeffrey

This fall’s return to sports was a memorable one for the Junior Girls’ basketball squad at St. Patrick’s high school, who went undefeated for the season and claimed the LKSSAA championship title.

“None of them had ever played high school basketball,” coach Kelsie James said of the Grade 9 and 10 students, noting the pandemic had nixed school sports in 2020.

“Their commitment level was just so high — especially for a group of kids who hadn’t been in a gym for two years.”

Despite uncertainty ahead, the team showed up every day starting the first week of September and didn’t miss a beat — switching work shifts and committing to practice five days a week.

“We were told there would be a season, but we really didn’t know. So we practiced for a couple weeks without knowing what was really going on,” James said.

“Those kids showed up every day; their commitment level was just so high, and they were so motivated.”

James, a teacher at Sir John Fisher school in Forest, and co-head coach Maggie Mullen, a teacher at Holy Trinity, have coached together the past few years.

“We both played basketball in high school — Maggie played for St. Pat’s and I played for St. Chris,” she said. “Once we moved back to Sarnia and did our teaching placements here, we got our foot in the door at the high school and wanted to start coaching and giving back.

“Basketball did a lot for us growing up.”

The girls were given the green light to compete in October, though spectators weren’t allowed.

“No fans could come, so it would just be the girls,” James said. “Their parents would drive them all the way to Chatham and had to sit in the car.

“Then part way through the season schools started allowing fans,” she continued, fighting back tears. “It was really emotional, to finally see them have their parents there to watch, after missing so much.”

With no tournaments and no advancing to SWOSSA — due to COVID-19 — the season wasn’t quite the same, but the girls made the most of it, James said. And that made all the difference.

The top-seeded squad defeated Northern Collegiate 57-29 in the LKSSAA championship on Nov. 18.

“They really just wanted to be there,” James said. “The look on their faces when they walked back into the gym — it was just a really good feeling to have sports back.”