During the season, Jason Kroeker and Stephen Norrish are rivals.
Kroeker plays for Sardis secondary school and Norrish for Chilliwack secondary school. The teams play twice per year in the Fraser Valley AAA East, and the battles are fierce.
With bragging rights on the line, both teams leave everything they’ve got on the floor. For 40 minutes, Storm players hate the Falcons with a passion. Falcon players respond in kind. The rivalry breeds animosity.
Sardis coach Kyle Graves, a former standout with the Falcons, has been the biggest proponent of the rivalry, working to resurrect the ill will that existed during his playing days. He loves to see the teams wage war with the stands full of fans, and makes it clear to his players that losing to CSS anytime anywhere is an unacceptable outcome.
CSS players get the same vibe from their veteran coach, Joe Mauro.
“For me, I just absolutely despise losing to Sardis,” Norrish says. “You want to claim your territory and be the top dog in Chilliwack. Sardis, they’re the other guys.”
The teams played twice last season and the Falcons won both.
“The first game, we won by 15 points really early in the season, and that kind of built towards the second game,” Kroeker says. “The second game, I think we won by one point and it was probably the most intense game I’ve ever played in.”
“At the end of that game, Hayden Lejeune had a put-back dunk on us,” Norrish says, frowning. “And at the very end, they were up by two and I had a three-point shot opportunity. It left my hand so straight and I was thinking, ‘This is it. This is it.’ Then it hit the back of the rim and came back out. That was devastating.”
The two players tell these stories as they sit in the weight room at SSS on a Thursday afternoon. Their seasons ended a couple months ago, with neither team making much noise at the provincial level.
Both players want to get better. They want their teams to get better.
And in a great twist of fate, their shared goals have them working with ‘the other guys’ over the spring.
Kroeker and Norrish have signed on with the Junior Cascades, an offseason training program run by Graves. Thrown together in one gymnasium several times a week, these rivals find themselves on the same side.
Foes as friends.
“Going up against him during the season was different, where I looked at him strictly as competition,” Kroeker says. “Now, we’re on the same team, and I have his back.”
Through the Junior Cascades program, these rivals are getting to know each other as people. At the same time, they’re developing a renewed appreciation for each other’s hoops abilities.
“You learn more about a guy playing with him than against him,” Norrish said. “You might only go up against a guy a few times during a regular season game and they might be having a really good game or really bad game. But in practises, you really get to know what kind of player they are.”
Norrish viewed Kroeker as a knock-down shooter, the type of guy you don’t want to give extra time or space to.
Kroeker viewed Norrish as an all-round player who could dribble, drive and shoot with equal skill.
“From our first few practices together, I now know he’s a real good defender,” Kroeker says, adding to the scouting report. “He’s made me look bad a few times. But it’s good. It’s making me a lot better.”
A Graves-run practice is focused on fundamentals, with the expectation that players do things until they get it right.
Sometimes, that can take a while.
Both players grimace when asked about a recent pick-and-roll drill that seemed like it would never end.
“Kyle loves stuff like that, and it wasn’t about making the shot, which is what a lot of us were focused on,” Kroeker recalls. “It was about staying low and keeping our head up when dribbling. Kyle knows we have to do these little things to be successful.”
It’s been more than 20 years since a Chilliwack basketball team made a serious run at provincials.
The Storm and Falcons have long lagged behind the perennial powerhouses, even though Chilliwack has no shortage of great athletes.
“All the teams that go to provincials, they’re a core group of guys who’ve been brought up since Grade 7 or 8,” Norrish surmises. “In Chilliwack, that hasn’t happened much. Kids get scattered all over the place. A club program like this helps bring the best players together, and makes everyone better.”
Whether that leads the Storm or Falcons to provincials is anyone’s guess. But there’s another reason for these players to be here.
With Canada’s fourth ranked CIS team (the UFV Cascades) in their backyard, both Kroeker and Norrish have something to shoot for.
Having Graves, an assistant coach at UFV, taking them through offseason workouts in the UFV way can only be beneficial.
“You know a lot of stuff that Barnaby (UFV coach Craddock) teaches them, Kyle’s bringing us,” Kroeker says. “And they’ve got to be doing something right to be that good.”
Of course, friends will once again be foes next winter as both players return to their high school squads.
When next the Storm and Falcons meet, Norrish hopes a summer playing alongside Kroeker will help him to play against Kroeker.
“You get to know the player more and it gives you an advantage,” Norrish says. “You can warn your team about what kind of player he is and what skills he has. This’ll be good for that.”
Foes as friends.
But rivals forever.