It’s never a good idea to outright say a team is going to win a high school provincial basketball championship, but with the Central Cyclones and the Saskatchewan High Schools Athletic Association 4A boys tournament this past weekend, you’d have been pretty safe making that prediction.
And sure enough, the Cyclones would live up to the hype as the number one seed in the province, cruising to a pair of wins in Prince Albert to claim their third-straight 4A boys title.
Central won their opening game on Friday night 100-57 over Regina Johnson and followed up with a 95-68 victory over Saskatoon Marion Graham in Saturday's gold medal game.
And just like that, provincial champs once again.
“We thought we had a pretty good chance going in and we played well, so there weren’t many issues,” said Central head coach Shaun Muchowski. “We really wanted to focus on defence and rebounding, and this weekend, we definitely played some really good defence and took care of the defensive rebounds for sure. And our offence was getting the job done, too, so we were clicking on all cylinders.”
Interestingly enough, both games were relatively close at halftime, with Central holding a lead in the 10-point range in the semifinal and nursing a seven-point 43-36 edge in the half in the final.
But the high pace and solid defence just started to wear teams down as the games progressed, and that led to the Cyclones pulling away quickly after the break.
“Both games were kind of similar that way, in that we took over in the second half,” Muchowski said. “The guys just stepped it up, created turnovers and got easy baskets and easy lay-ups.”
Cyclones senior Tommy Vincent appeared to suffer an ankle injjury in the late moments of their regional win over Regina Scott the previous weekend, but that apparently wasn’t a problem. He’d go off for 39 points against Johnson, easily leading all scorers with one of his best games of the season. Gerritt Gulutzan and Mason Muchowski picked up 14 points each in the semifinal.
It was Caleb Newkirk’s turn to lead the way in the gold medal game, putting up 24 points, while Muchowski was nearly his equal with a 23-point showing. Vincent scored 17 and Gulutzan added 15.
With three straight titles and back-to-back post-pandemic wins, the comparisons naturally begin to happen. And while their 2019 and 2022 crews were some of the best teams to play in the city in recent years, the 2022 edition had to put a little more effort into becoming the championship team they are today.
“(Assistant coach) Chris Temple and I were looking back at the last two years, and this year was quite a bit harder,” Muchowski said. “We had to grind a lot more this year and really deal with adversity and not winning like we did last year. We started the season 0-4, where last year we lost only two games all season. So it was a little different for the guys, but it helped us grow and helped us learn and turned us into a pretty good basketball season by the end of the season.”
Now the question turns to whether they can four-peat. With a crew of hyper-talented players coming up from the junior ranks, that’s a distinct possibility, even if it comes with a caveat.
“We’re hoping, but we could be on the 5A side next year, we’ll be close to that line,” Muchowski said of Central Collegiate’s increasing student population. “But looking at the future and knowing who’s there from other big schools, I don’t think we’d be that far off with the talent we have coming up and what’s coming back. We’ll give them a shot either way.”
The city champion Peacock Toilers didn’t have as much luck facing those big schools in their 5A Hoopla run this past weekend, as they lost 89-56 to eventual champion Saskatoon Holy Cross on Thursday and 97-71 to eventual consolation champion Regina Miller in their second game.
Mac Simpson led the Toilers with 16 points against Holy Cross, while Lance Geddes added 14 and Mukungu Mutabazi 10. Kai Houghton had stellar game with 28 points in the consolation semifinal, Mutabazi added 13.