Red Hawks win silver at COSSA finals
Despite missing gold, coach says there’s much to be proud of
|By Alex Coop - Staff Writer | March 3, 2016|
Red Hawks head coach David Waito was drawing up a play during his final timeout of the season.
His players studied the Xs and Os, while tuning out the 18-point deficit that loomed over them late in the fourth quarter of the Central Ontario Secondary School Athletics (COSSA) Championship finals last Friday.
It wasn’t a situation the Red Hawks faced often this season, but they kept their composure.
“You call [a timeout] to try and teach and improve ... I wasn’t giving up and they weren’t giving up,” Waito said after his team lost 58-40 to Nicholson Catholic College on Friday.
The Haliburton Highlands Secondary School senior boys’ basketball team came out of that last timeout with determination and perfectly executed a play for McKay Coneybeare. He drained the open three-pointer, but it wasn't enough.
As Waito noted, the newfound enthusiasm for basketball in Haliburton was thanks to the excitement team members brought to their games, and the victories they won.
“Basketball in Haliburton is being talked about,” he said. “These guys have been committed to basketball and to this team in a pretty special way.”
Haliburton entered the COSSA finals on the heels of their Kawartha West conference title victory against IE Weldon School. It was a first for Waito and the senior boys program.
Their 6-1 regular season record and triple-overtime victory against Weldon turned heads across the Kawartha West conference and set the stage perfectly for the COSSA tournament at HHSS.
For years, Haliburton sat at the bottom of the standings. Last year’s early exit in COSSA was the first sign of things to come for the basketball program, which has been developing a core group of players since 2013.
In their first game of the tournament, the Red Hawks’ eight-player roster held St. Paul’s High School to 14 first half points, but led by only four. HHSS continued to attack the net and eventually walked away with a 41-25 victory.
Guard Hunter Smith finished with 14 points. His teammate, forward Nick Thompson, finished with 10.
The waiting game that followed posed an unexpected challenge for the Red Hawks.
Due to Brock High School’s last-second bus cancellations, HHSS had to wait for an hour before their final opponent was revealed.
The senior team was expecting to play a finals game at 6 p.m. based on the original schedule, but instead, had to settle for the 4 p.m. showdown against a Nicholson team that dropped down to the Single-A division for the first time in 11 years. They were also fresh off the bus, and due to the cancellations, hadn’t played a game before their match against Haliburton.
Waito said their team found out about Nicholson’s division switch a week prior to COSSA.
“It probably had some impact on the first quarter,” he said.
The Red Hawks trailed 19-4 after 12 minutes of play. They managed to stop the bleeding heading into halftime but were still down 30-16.
The home team’s strong full-court defence created a much more competitive atmosphere in the third and fourth quarter. HHSS managed to hold Nicholson to 28 points, but only scored 24, which wasn’t enough to close the gap.
It was Tim Coates’ first-ever game against the Red Hawks, and the head coach for the Nicholson team said he wasn’t sure what to expect, despite the preparations he made.
“I contacted one school to try and get a feel for them. A couple of [Haliburton’s] players were quite good,” he said. “[Coneybeare] just couldn’t miss, and a shooter like that is always scary.”
Waito praised his team for being dedicated and said they have set the bar high for players next fall.
“They had to believe in something they’ve never seen done before in Haliburton,” he said. “We’re looking at this year as a legacy year for basketball.”
Every player on the team will graduate this year.Red Hawks alumni Cody Bain said when it comes to chemistry, this year’s team picked up where they left off last year, when he was a member.
“They’ve developed a lot more as a team this year,” he said. “We had a full team of 15 players last year, so it was a little harder to figure out everybody’s role, but this team is a lot smaller so they had that figured out.”
ALEX COOP is a reporter for The Highlander.