Eastern Commerce preps for another OFSAA chase

GOING FOR TWO: Sami Hill, left, and Billie Grant plan on returning to OFSAA next season under the tutelage of coach Kareem Griffin. The Saints won the 2010 AAAA City Championship, advancing them to OFSAA as the TDSSAA representative.

Triumvirate of Sami Hill, Vaneil Simpson and Bilie Grant returning for 2011

The three-year hiatus from a strong basketball regiment that once led Eastern Commerce senior girls to OFSAA gold is over.

The arrival of the 2010 season brought with it the return of coach Kareem Griffin, and with him the restoration of an OFSAA-driven squad.

In 2008 Eastern Commerce was tops in the province, and after that title, eight girls graduated, leaving a then-grade 9 Sami Hill the only player remaining in 2010.

With all these new bodies unfamiliar to Griffin’s brand of play, introducing the team to his playbook was a divine test.

“I missed out on the year for personal reasons and there was a new crop of girls that hadn’t been coached our type of style, pace and urgency,” he said. “It’s kind of hard because you’re asking someone to go from 0 to 100 mph and not even a car can do that right away.”

Still, the Saints came through, thanks to the efforts of the aforementioned Hill along with Vaneil Simpson and Bilie Grant.

Hill acknowledged it took some time for the ladies to readjust.

“It was a whole different setting,” she said. “Practices were a lot more intense.”

The Junior Women’s Elite League point guard shrugged off the suggestion it was a challenge.

“It’s more the excitement that the more we practise and the more we train, we knew we would be a lot better than the previous year.”

Back then, Northern downed E-Comm in the regionals 46-40, and subsequently rubbed salt in the wounds at the OFSAA backdoor game, winning 45-32.

So it’s no secret revenge was on the Saints’ minds.

When the 2010 AAAA city finals materialized, the two rivals met again, only this time E-Comm was the victor, 81-17.

“It was a good vindication for us to win, especially against Northern because they beat us last year,” Griffin said. “To have a chance to beat them on the bigger stage in the city, by that margin, kind of says something about the character of the girls on the team that were on the losing end last year.”

Both Simpson and Hill were key in the roster on the road to the citys, but an unfortunate technicality kept Grant out of the lineup.

Because of a transfer from another school, Grant was only allowed to play regular season games.

The vacancy was felt when Eastern travelled to Hamilton for AAAA OFSAA. The squad lost all three games played.

“She was that missing piece we needed when we got to OFSAA,” Griffin said. “All three of those girls are basically leaders of that team.”

Grant is the nucleus drawing all the players together, ensuring the team plays at the same pace as Hill and Simpson.

On the upside, all three girls will be back for the 2011 season with a full year of Griffin’s strategy in their sneakers.

Griffin acknowledged there’s still more work to be done.

“I knew heading into this year it was going to be another two-step process because our goal is to win OFSAA,” he said. “I didn’t think we were going to get it done this year — I mean, if we did I’d be the greatest coach of all time, but it’s not going to work that way.”

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