BEC Bears will look to composure, strong defence in Coal Bowl Classic return
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NEW WATERFORD, NS — Sitting in a small office just outside the Breton Education Center gym, Loghan LeBlanc recalls the moment the hosts Bears won the 2016 New Waterford Coal Bowl Classic.
The product of New Waterford was just a kid sitting in the stands with his friends as the hometown Bears downed the D’Arcy McGee Gee Gees 68-45 in the championship game to capture only their second tournament title.
As fans rushed to the stage to celebrate with the players, LeBlanc said it was at that moment that he realized it could be him one day playing for his school and fighting for the prestigious yellow championship banner.
“It was a moment I’ll never forget because I was so happy for the players and the school, but it was also a turning point in my basketball career,” LeBlanc said, noting that it seems surreal to remember at first Coal Bowl prepare tournament.
“It was that game that really pushed me into the sport. I was already playing, but it made me focus a lot more on the game – it made me push myself to get to that point in my career and play in the tournament.”
Seven years and two cancellations later, LeBlanc will finally have the opportunity to achieve his dream and be in the Bears lineup when the New Waterford Coal Bowl Classic opens at the BEC gym on Monday.
The six-day tournament, which features teams from Nova Scotia, Quebec and Ontario, will return to court after being canceled in both 2021 and 2022 due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
This year’s high school basketball tournament marks only the second time four Cape Breton teams have competed in the same event – BEC, Glace Bay, Riverview and Strait Area Education Recreation Center. It is also the first time that three teams from the Cape Breton Regional Municipality have competed in the same Coal Bowl tournament.
– Jeremy Fraser, sports reporter for the Cape Breton Post, will provide extensive coverage of the annual New Waterford Coal Bowl Classic both in print and online. Follow Jeremy on Twitter for live coverage by clicking here.
Since the season began in the fall, LeBlanc has been a key player in the Bears’ offense. The Class 11 center is third in the team standings at 11.9 points per game and believes he can bring even more to the lineup next week.
“It took me a while to find my game and get back into the swing of things, but I’ve become more of an inside player and more of a pass-first guy,” said the 16-year-old LeBlanc.
“I’m still kicking the ball and I’ve shot the ball really well the last few games. I hit the net, I get rebounds and I base my game on rebounds mainly because that drives offense and also our defense.
BEC joins the Doug MacKinnon Division along with SAERC Saints of Port Hawkesbury, Hants North Rural Flames of Kennetcook, NS, Northeast Kings Education Center Titans of Canning, NS, and Polyvalente de L’Ancienne-Lorette Athlétiques of L’Ancienne recorded -Lorette, Que.
Meanwhile, the Mark Walzak division will include the Glace Bay Panthers, Riverview Ravens, Yarmouth Consolidated Memorial High School Vikings, Juvénat Notre-Dame Insulaires of Lévis, Que., and St. Mark Catholic High School Lions of Manotick, Ontario.
The Breton Education Center has hosted the New Waterford Coal Bowl Classic for 39 years. JEREMY FRASER/CAPE BRETON POST. -Jeremy Fraser
Key to success
The Bears, who finished first in the Cape Breton High School Basketball League with a record 8-1 win over Riverview, will open the tournament at 7 p.m. Monday when they meet Polyvalente de L’Ancienne-Lorette.
BEC will continue the tournament on Tuesday when they play Hants North at 20:00 CET, followed by SAERC on Wednesday at 18:00 CET. The team will complete the round-robin portion of the tournament against Northeast Kings on Thursday at 5:00 p.m.
“I think we need to move the ball and keep our composure,” LeBlanc said, noting that he’s been playing basketball since he was in elementary school.
“Serenity is a big thing for us and I find the bigger the crowd the more we get into the game and the more we stay in the game so I think serenity is going to be a big thing for us as is swinging the ball ”
Unlike previous years, the Bears will not enter the tournament with many players with experience in the Coal Bowl. In fact, the club only have two players – Ben Kearney and Ethan MacNeil – who attended the event in 2020 in their 9th grade year.
Bears head coach Sandy Kearney said it will be a new challenge for the club but believes his team will benefit from playing strong defense throughout the week.
“We’re proud of our defense and we plan to come out with a nice, intense defense and we’re hoping to beat our defense,” Kearney said. “We have a few variations on what we’re going to do defensively and we’re keen to show what it takes to be a good team with a good defensive sound.”
Overall, BEC has a 12-6 record this season. The club is a Division 2 team by school population, but has played against Division 1 schools both locally and across the province for most of the season.
Along with LeBlanc, the team is led by Ben Kearney, who is averaging 27.5 points per game, along with Luke MacKinnon, who has averaged 12.2 points per game so far.
“We have a really nice mix of ages,” said Sandy Kearney. “We’re being led by our two 12th graders and our two 12th graders, and followed by the beautiful core of the 12th and 9th graders – that says a lot for our program over the next few years.”
The Breton Education Center Bears’ Loghan LeBlanc will be one of the leaders of this year’s team when the New Waterford Coal Bowl Classic opens at the BEC gym on Monday. LeBlanc is currently third in the team standings. JEREMY FRASER/CAPE BRETON POST – Jeremy Fraser
With the success the team has had throughout the season and winning the school’s first provincial basketball title for boys last spring, expectations among Bears players are high.
“The chemistry is definitely there,” LeBlanc said, noting how close the team has grown this year.
“I think a win in the first game will really set the tone for the rest of the tournament. We know there are some good teams coming our way and we can’t expect things to be handed to us – we have to work hard and win.”
Kearney expects players to be a little nervous as the tournament begins as the majority of the team has never experienced the Coal Bowl atmosphere before.
“It used to be a huge advantage for our Breton teams where we could rely on their Coal Bowl experience to give us a small advantage over teams coming in,” Kearney said.
“We’re all on an even field this year, most guys have no idea what to expect – we used to think we’d get that Monday win pretty easily because we wouldn’t be upset, but it’s a bit now different year.”
Tickets for this year’s Coal Bowl Classic went on public sale at 12 noon last Saturday. The passes were completely sold out within eight minutes.
Following the round robin, the semi-finals of the tournament are scheduled for February 3 at 7:00 p.m. and 9:00 p.m. The consolation and league games will be played on February 4 at 12:00 p.m. and 2:00 p.m. respectively.
LeBlanc would love nothing more than to win this year’s title for his hometown fans.
“It would mean the world to me,” LeBlanc said. I’ve wanted this since I was a kid. Basketball is my life, it’s the only sport I play – I’ve given up everything else – and I’ve focused on playing basketball, so I’ve been serious about it for a long time.”
– Jeremy Fraser is the sports reporter for the Cape Breton Post. Follow him on Twitter @CBPost_Jeremy.