WINNIPEG, MB–Despite losing two of their leading scorers from the year prior, and being counted out by most at the beginning of the season. The Garden City Fighting Gophers managed to make their way back to the Manitoba High School provincial finals and this time walk away with the championship.
Denis Cicak, a graduating player on the team spoke to NPH about being doubted. “At the beginning of the season we weren’t favoured to win our own conference (KPAC) or even to be top 10 in the province, even though we’ve won seven of the last nine KPAC conference titles. This gave us more motivation, as no one believed that we could accomplish anything this year.”
However, there was one solid believer in the Fighting Gophers and that was Head Coach Phil Penner, who has had a lot of recent success coaching at Garden City.
Josh Magpantay who won the MVP for the provincial championships talked about his head coach. “From the start of the season, our coach told us that we were going to be a top team as long as we worked hard and kept his word for it.”
The Fighting Gophers didn’t have immediate success, and had plenty of highs and lows throughout the season.
Andre Arruda-Welch had a breakout year, and was the go to guy for Garden City throughout the season “We had our ups and downs like all teams do, but we always gave 110% and always had the heard to keep going.”
Players, coaches and fans really started to take notice of Garden City when they had a dominating tournament at the Wesmen Classic. The Gophers rolled through the competition and in the championship game played and won without their star point guard Josh Magpantay.
Another player who really stepped his game up was grade 11 big man Tynan Reyes. Reyes, at 6’6, was able to provide height and a post presence for the Fighting Gophers.
“I went into this year with almost zero post moves. This was because for my club team I had played the wing. Coach Phil helped me out a lot and helped me establish a go-to move and a counter for my go-to move.”
For the grade 12’s on the team, winning the championship in their final year is a moment to cherish.
“Taking the provincials in my last year of high school basketball was simply amazing, I couldn’t ask for anything more. My team was filled with great individuals who displayed a positive character on and off the court, and that is simply what you need on a team to win.” Cicak told NPH.
Andre Arruda-Welch remembered last season as well as this year’s “It was a heart breaker losing last year, and it was so great to get a second chance at another provincial championship. I’m so thankful for my team this year, and it’s the best feeling to lift the trophy.”
Along with the Provincial Championship, the Garden City Fighting Gophers racked up a fair share of tournament hardware this year, winning the St. Vital Invitational, Wesmen Classic, the KPAC Championship and the WIT. They were also able to finish 3rd at the Miles Mac Tournament, place 3rd at the Brandon Spartan Sun Invitational and win bronze at the BRIT tournament in Saskatchewan.
Garden City will lose a few key pieces next year, including Denis Cicak and Andre Arruda-Welch to graduation. All-star guard Josh Magpantay, big man Tynan Reyes will return and they will add players from the Junior Varsity team which had won the Junior Varsity Provincial Championship.
Despite the odds they may face, don’t count out the Garden City Fighting Gophers.