CORNER BROOK They’ll hit the floor this weekend, again regarded as the best high school boys basketball team in Newfoundland and Labrador.
That distinction might not mean as much to their opponents, which all hail from either New Brunswick or Quebec, but the Corner Brook Regional High Titans will still try to milk it for all its worth at the 26th edition of the Dairy Town Classic in Sussex, N.B.
Lining up against them will be the host Sussex Regional High Sonics, the Fredericton Black Kats, St. Stephen Spartans and Simonds Seabees, all of New Brunswick, along with the Jean-de-Brebeuf Dynamiques of Montreal, Que.
“From what we’ve heard, it’s usually a pretty high-ranked tournament,” said third-year Titans guard Nathan Burt. “We don’t know the quality of the teams, we’ve just heard it’s a high-end tournament and there’s been good teams going.
“We’re just expecting to go up there and play hard,” he added. “Obviously, we want to win.”
Winning hasn’t been much of an issue for the Titans this season. Their repeat placement atop the second set of 2013 Hall of Fame Cup elite eight rankings, released Monday, isn’t just ‘list’ service — they’ve earned it.
They won their second consecutive championship at the annual Wendy’s Classic tournament in Mount Pearl back in November, before claiming the Subway Sackville Kingfisher Classic tournament in Nova Scotia in December. The first triumph resulted in their No. 1 ranking on the first list distributed by Newfoundland and Labrador Basketball Association on. Dec. 20, while the win in Nova Scotia helped cement their place atop this second list. The third and final set of rankings, leading into the Hall of Fame Cup tournament itself, will be made public on Feb. 12.
“We proved what we needed to prove,” said Burt. “We believe we are the team to beat, but you never know what can happen.”
With an abundance of strengths, including guards who can shoot the ball well and guys down low who are able to dominate the boards, Burt said a total team effort has propelled the Titans to such heights so far this season.
And with each passing victory, the swagger becomes more pronounced.
“The team we beat in the championship game over in Nova Scotia (the Prince Andrew Panthers) is apparently a pretty high-ranked team over there, so it really boosts the confidence,” Burt said.
Success in Sussex this weekend would really pump the Titans’ tires, but Burt and his teammates are aware their main goals need to be realized in this province and, no matter how they do off the island, there are plenty of tough teams to contend with back home.
The three teams that trail the Titans in the elite eight rankings — Gonzaga, Booth and Mount Pearl — haven’t changed since the first list was released, and any one of those clubs could derail their season in an instant.
“We still know we have to stick to our game and play hard every game,” Burt said.
The key to avoiding a late-season letdown is to continue playing with the intrinsic connection the Titans players have demonstrated up to this point. With only three changes to the roster from last year, these young men are a tight-knit group.
“We can’t go out there playing an individual game,” said Burt. “When we’ve got our team chemistry working and going well, that’s when we’re at our best.”
Once the Dairy Classic is in the books, the Titans can then focus on the Hall of Fame Cup and, subsequently, the 4A Provincials — the most prestigious title and a banner that painfully eluded them last year.
“It means a lot,” Burt said. “For most of this team, this is the moment we’ve been waiting for since Grade 5 or Grade 6 basketball, to prove we’re the best on the island and come together as a team and do what we want to do.
“It’s been our main goal ever since we were that young,” he added. “It will be extremely cool to end it off with a bang like that.”
The Titans take to the floor tonight to play the Fredericton Black Kats at 7:45 p.m., followed by a meeting with the Simonds Seabees at 1 p.m. Friday. Semifinal matchups will be played Friday evening, with the rest of the playoff round wrapping up on Saturday, including the championship game at 1 p.m.
The following is the second set of Hall of Fame Cup elite eight rankings released by NLBA on Monday:
(Previous ranking in parentheses)
1) Corner Brook Regional High (1)
2) Gonzaga Regional High (2)
3) Booth Memorial High (3)
4) Mount Pearl Senior High (4)
5) Holy Heart of Mary Regional High (7)
6) Bishops College High (5)
7) St. Catherine’s Academy (N/R)
8) O’Donel High (6)
Dropped out: Holy Trinity High (8)