Cindy Ross is hoping experience her players gained at the 2022 Junior All-Native Tournament (JANT) will pay off at this year’s event.
Ross is the head coach of the Tla-o-qui-aht Qu?usin’mit, a boys’ under-17 squad that is expected to fare well at the 2023 tourney, scheduled for March 19-24 in Nanaimo.
Snunymuxw First Nation will play host to the event, which will feature Indigenous squads from across the province competing in both girls’ and boys’ divisions at the under-13 and under-17 levels.
Ross’ charges had some success at last year’s event in Kelowna. Her team ended up winning the consolation championship.
“It was the first year for this team there and it gave them a good base,” she said. “They know how hard this tournament can be.”
Ross is hoping her club can register victories early on and keep winning matches on the championship side of the tournament this time around.
“We have average height but we’re very quick,” Ross said.
Knowing what to expect should be a huge plus, Ross added.
“It’s going to mean a lot,” she said of the experience garnered at the Kelowna tourney.
There’s no doubt the Tla-o-qui-aht squad will have a veteran and experienced team at this year’s event.
“We only lost two players to graduation,” Ross said, adding the club will have nine returnees on its roster. “And we’ll lose five players this year.”
Key members of the Tla-o-qui-aht squad include guards Jeffrey Tom II and Anthony Robinson as well as forward James Ortiz-Castro.
There is no qualifying tournament to enter the JANT. But the Qu?usin’mit side has fared extremely well in the two events it has entered thus far this season.
For starters, it ended up with a fourth-place finish at a tournament, which included 12 participating teams, in Port Alberni in October.
And then last month the Tla-o-qui-aht side entered an event hosted by Ahousaht First Nation. Ross’ club ended up playing in two separate divisions at that tourney.
It captured top honours in its under-17 grouping. And team members then managed to more than hold their own competing against some adults in the men’s division.
The Tla-o-qui-aht club ended up placing second in the men’s grouping. There were five teams that participated in the men’s division.
Ross is hoping members of her Tla-o-qui-aht squad will be able to play again collectively before heading off to the JANT.
But the team does not have any upcoming games scheduled at this point.
“Tournaments over here just seem to pop up so we’re hoping that there will be at least one more for us,” she said. “But it’s hard sometimes to get to these events.”
Ross’ 11-player roster features five individuals that are members of Tla-o-qui-aht First Nation. The other half dozen players on the team are members of other First Nations, but they do have some Tla-o-qui-aht ancestry, making them eligible to suit up for the Qu?usin’mit squad.
Besides having played together at the 2022 JANT, Ross added many of the players on her team are rather well acquainted with each other.
“A majority of them play at the same high school team,” she said.
That would be Ucluelet Secondary School. Tla-o-qui-aht’s roster includes a pair of players who toil at the high school junior ranks while the other nine are all senior players.
Meanwhile, the Nuu-chah-nulth contingent at the 2023 JANT will include two other Tla-o-qui-aht First Nation clubs.
The TFN Wolfpack will be competing in the boys’ under-13 division. And the TFN 1st Ladies are registered in the girls’ under-17 category.