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Peetabeck basketball team make OFSAA

Thursday January 9, 2014

The Fort Albany senior girls basketball team’s run to the provincial championships this fall is Wawatay’s #1 Sports story of the year.

“It was good feeling to be there,” said Amber Nakogee, a Grade 12 student. “Those teams are really good. It made us want to try harder.”

The Fort Albany girls were the first First Nations high school team from a fly-in community in Ontario to win their regional finals and make the Ontario Federation of School Athletic Associations’ (OFSAA) ‘A’ Girls basketball tournament, which was held Nov. 21-23 in Sault Ste. Marie.

“When we won, it was quiet,” said Fort Albany coach Justin Sackaney about the regional finals win. “I was sitting there when the buzzer sounded, and we just shook hands. It was a quiet moment. We did it, but we were just so tired I guess. Just nods all around, that’s it. Just, ‘cool.’”

Although Nakogee and the six other Fort Albany players made the provincials by going undefeated in league play and defeating École Secondaire Catholique Sainte-Marie in the regional finals, they had a tougher time at the provincials.

“It was more tough and more intense,” said Karen Etherington. “I got really tired.”

The Fort Albany girls suffered their first loss of the season at the provincials, losing 47-21 against Port Colbourne, a team from southern Ontario near Niagara Falls.

They then lost 48-21 in their second game at the provincials and bowed out 41-12 in the consolation quarter-finals.

“We got tired or nervous, stuff like that takes over,” Nakogee said.

While the girls were able to compete with the other teams throughout the first half of the three games, Sackaney said they were not physically conditioned enough to compete at such a high level. The team also had only seven players in total, so some players had to play entire games.

“I held back in terms of practices, because I was so worried about a player getting hurt,” said Sackaney, who competed at the OFSAA while in high school. “I had to hold back. I usually practice an hour-and-a-half. But this year it’s just an hour.”

Sackaney originally recruited Nakogee and Etherington for the team in 2007 when he first began developing the Fort Albany basketball program.

“I didn’t really know how to play,” said Etherington, who was in Grade 6 at the time. “I got better at it so I kept playing.”

But due to their isolated location on the James Bay coast, it was difficult for the team to compete against other teams. So they often played against the boys’ team for practice in a game setting.

The girls lost many games in the beginning, including one game where they lost by 100 points, but they kept persevering and advanced to the regionals for the first time last year, where they lost in the finals by 14 points.

Despite the losing record, Sackaney believes the girls’ successes have given the school and its program credibility. More sponsors have stepped up and he thinks the program will continue to grow.

“It was cool to come back into community,” he said. “I felt vindicated for all the stuff I’ve been doing in Fort Albany. There were times where I wanted to leave and do something else. Just because it’s so hard to get these kids to games.”

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