After watching his Red Hawks junior girls’ basketball team win a Kawartha A Championship in its first season together, coach Mike Rieger is excited about the future of the program he’s attempting to rebuild.

The team wrapped up its season with an appearance at the COSSA regional championships Nov. 15, losing 36-18 in the semi-finals to the North Hastings Huskies of Bancroft.

While the young Red Hawks went 2-7 on the season, there was plenty to be proud of, Rieger noted – not least the Kawartha A Championship trophy they hoisted on home court Nov. 6, after a 26-15 victory over Peterborough’s Kenner Rams.

“These girls came such a long way in a short period of time. For some of them, it was their first time playing organized basketball,” Rieger said. “They were able to pick up a lot in terms of having three or four different defensive sets to switch between, which was one of our big strengths this year and helped us win that Kawartha title.”

This was the first junior girls’ basketball team in Haliburton for over a decade. Rieger coached a varsity squad last year, made up largely of graduating Grade 12 students, but felt there was enough young talent to establish a program.

With nine committed players – Hazel Jones, Freyja Neumann-Rowe, Haydyn Aggett, Rosie Lafleur, Renato D’Ambrosio, Tory Byrnes, Maddy Walker, Jordanna Jennings, and Jordyn Hurd – the group gathered for practices starting in mid-September. The focus then, Rieger said, was on developing the fundamentals – passing, dribbling, and shooting.

Their opening two games of the season ended in high-scoring defeats to I.E. Weldon and LCVI, two larger schools from Lindsay. Later practices centred on defence, and though the Red Hawks suffered three further defeats – to Peterborough’s Crestwood and Adam Scott Oct. 5, and at home to the Fenelon Falls Falcons Oct. 12, Rieger saw progress.

Their hard work paid off Oct. 26 with a 35-27 win on the road over Kenner, giving the team home advantage for the Kawartha A championship.

Rieger was proud that the team secured wins in both games against the only other ‘A’ designated school in the division. In high school sports, a team is classified as A, AA, or AAA based on the school’s student population.

Now the girls have a base level of skills, Rieger said they’re excited to return next season to test themselves against the better teams.

“With this group being so young, the hope is that having them come back for three, four more years, they will continue building and developing,” Rieger said. “The girls are hungry. They’re looking at the bigger schools and trying to chase them down.”

After seeing the positive feeling the championship win generated throughout the school community, Rieger hopes it can be the catalyst for not only a revitalized basketball program, but a resurgence of all extracurricular sports post-pandemic.

“We know in Haliburton, pretty much for any sport, that it’s a four-year process to get a program up and running. We’re in the early stages here, so to get off on the right foot with a great group of girls and have a really positive result at the end of year one – those are the blocks you need to put together successful programs and foster that sporting spirit.

“Being involved in sports feeds into so many other things these students do. It keeps them organized, builds teamwork and determination. And it’s a great way for them to make new friends, and become a bigger part of the school community,” Rieger added.