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Exploits Valley High makes school history as Elite Eight team in basketball tournament

It was hard for Exploits Valley High male basketball team players to focus on J.D. Salinger’s "Catcher in the Rye" in English class as they waited for final NLBA Hall of Fame Cup rankings news.

Delayed by the January storm that shut down St. John’s for over a week, the rankings determine who would make the eight-team tournament known as the Elite Eight set for Feb. 14-16 in St. John’s.

“I think my guys were in school on their phones when they shouldn’t have been waiting for word that we’d made it,” said coach Nathan Sullivan. “I was at work constantly checking (my email).

On Feb. 4, the Newfoundland and Labrador Basketball Association finally released the rankings. Exploits Valley High was listed in fifth spot, three spots higher than their original position.

“We’ve got a lot of hard working guys here. They’ve been playing basketball for a long time and it's always been a goal to be able to compete on the east coast. Seeing that we jumped up to five was almost like mission accomplished.”

When the Eagles meet the Elwood Lakers of Deer Lake in their first game in the Hall of Fame Cup Friday night, it will be the first time a team from Exploits Valley High has qualified for the prestigious tournament.

“It meant a lot to us and the seniors because we’d never played in the tournament before," said senior guard Ethan Lush. "Now that we’re going to the tournament, all of us are just psyched up.”

For seniors like Lush and Steven Mercer — who have been playing together since junior high — it represents the culmination of a longtime goal.

Making it a bit sweeter is the fact they kick it off in what one could call a rivalry game with Elwood.

“We’re looking forward to going out and competing. We’ve got a chip on our shoulder,” said Mercer, a 17-year-old forward. “We’re looking to bond as a team and enjoy our last tournaments together and prove ourselves, really.”

The Eagles play hard and make sure at the end of the game each opponent knows they’ve been in a fight. They dive after every loose ball and try to make teams play at their pace and intensity.

Reaching the Elite Eight has always been a goal of coach Nathan Sullivan and his players. While their focus has always been on being at their best for provincials, it was important to get to the tournament this weekend as a representation of central Newfoundland basketball.

“I don’t think a lot of teams from central have been in this tournament and it's also for us to not only represent the school but also show that central basketball is here to stay,” said Lush.

The Hall of Fame Cup gets underway Friday and games are being streamed online on the 3Sixty Live streaming service. The stream can be found here.


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1 being least likely, and 10 being most likely

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