There isn't a much better start to the season than the one NACI's junior varsity girls basketball has accomplished. Last weekend, Dec. 6-8, the squad left one of the province's top tournaments, the University of Manitoba's Junior Varsity Girls Tournament, as champions after going undefeated through the tournament. The 14-team tournament consisted of 10 AAAA teams, one AAA team and three AA teams, and NACI proved it could compete with anyone there by defeating teams from each category. Most significantly, it topped AAAA schools Fort Richmond and Kidonan East en route to the championship, an amazing accomplishment for a Neepawa school. “I am very proud of the team,” coach Kerri Hayhurst said. “I am really trying to emphasize with the girls that while scoring is important, it is only one part of the game. In order for any team to be successful, all parts of the game are important.” Her athletes seem to be buying in to that theory, and it was most evident in the tournament finals where they defeated AA school Teulon by a 37-20 score. Lina Gordon pulled in 17 rebounds and four steals while Halle Hayhurst grabbed 12 rebounds and five steals largely as a result of a great team defensive effort, while the offense was widely spread out. “There was no one in double digits,” Hayhurst explained. “It was very nice to see that balanced attack because it is much harder to defend.” NACI started the tournament with round robin games against the AAAA Fort Richmond squad and AAA Sanford team. In their opener, NACI topped Fort Richmond 43-39 with Gordon getting a 14-point, 13-rebound double-double, Danielle Hanke grabbing seven rebounds and seven steals and Halle Hayhurst bringing in seven rebounds and five steals. They followed that with a dominant 61-12 performance over Sanford. Jayme Kulbacki had seven rebounds with seven assists, Shelby Gillies found her shot with 13 points and Brooke Anderson had six rebounds to go with her 14 points. The wins qualified NACI for a semi-final matchup against AAAA school Kildonan East. In a tight match, the Tigers proved to be clutch as they left 44-37 winners. Hayhurst topped the 20-point mark with 25 points, six rebounds and four steals, while Kulbacki and Gordon both had four rebounds. The win qualified the Tigers to the finals where they defeated Teulon to become tourney champions, an accomplishment NACI phys ed teacher Bryce Koscielny said is well-deserved. “Coach Hayhurst and the girls have put a lot of sweat and work in to becoming a successful team,” Koscielny said. “Beating the AAAA schools is rare and it proves that it doesn't matter where you live, it's how you play the game. “It's proof that rural schools and kids can compete in an urban setting. Hard work and commitment pay off no matter where you live, and when you have a team full of student athletes that are willing to work, you can have a lot of success!” The Tigers Junior Varsity squad will be competing against varsity squads throughout the season this year, and will finish the year competing in the JV Zone 7 playoffs with hopes of qualifying for the 2013 JV provincial tournament.