The whole season has been but a prelude to this moment.
At 4:15 p.m. Tuesday, the Pitt Meadows secondary Marauders Air Force senior boys’ basketball team took to the hardwood at the Langley Events Centre against Terrace’s Caledonia secondary, their first test of the 2011 AAA provincial championships.
The Marauders, who are 33-10 this season, are five wins away from immortality. However, so are 19 other of the best basketball teams in B.C. Teams like Burnaby South, Terry Fox, RC Palmer, Kelowna, and Vancouver College.
Marauders coach Rich Goulet has put his team through its paces this past week to prepare it for the tournament.
This is familiar ground for Goulet. He has been to the Big Show 12 times as head coach of the Marauders, winning it twice, in 1989 and 2000.
They key to success, he says, will be consistency, and remaining calm and focussed amidst the chaos that is B.C.’s biggest basketball tournament.
“You need to be ready, be cool, stick to the routine, and be ready for whatever comes,” said Goulet.
This will be the first time the team will play so close to home, with the tournament being held just over the Golden Ears Bridge, and Goulet is hoping for some hometown support.
The team’s preparations have not been as physically taxing as in years past, Goulet instead opting to give his players a modicum of rest before they embark for their goal.
“We couldn’t push it last year, due to injuries, and we finished fourth, so conditioning wasn’t an issue,” said Goulet. “Our problem last year was that we couldn’t get our shooters going.”
That hasn’t been a problem this year, as the team stands to break its own record for three-pointers in a season. In fact, every player on the team, save one, has hit a three-pointer this season.
“It makes up for our tragic free throw [percentage],” Goulet said. However, even that aspect of the Marauders’ game has improved. The team was a dismal 50 per cent from the line at Christmas, but are now shooting 70 per cent.
“They are buying into the program, which is huge,” he said.
This year’s squad is also one of the best defensive teams Goulet has ever coached.
“Teams aren’t getting over 70 points very often,” he said. “Defence is always defined by how hard you work and your desire, and this team has worked hard at it.”
Goulet has certainly seen it all in his dozen trips to the provincial championships.
“I don’t get surprised by upsets, I’ve seen enough to know that any team can beat any other team,” he said. “But sometimes my own kids can surprise me.”
Case in point, at last weekend’s Grade 9 provincial championship, Pitt Meadows’ leading scorer Elijah Lapurga was pointless heading into the third quarter. The point guard quickly took four penalties, and faced the very real possibility of being benched for the remainder of the game. Instead of fouling out, Lapurga exploded for 25 points, leading Pitt Meadows to a 20-point victory.
“It was one of the most amazing performances by any athlete I’ve coached,” Goulet said. “You just never know who’s going to step up.”
What is also unknown is how a team will respond when they step onto the hardwood, and begin their journey towards a provincial championship.
“You never know if your preparation has worked until you set foot on the court for that first game,” he said.