Alumni hoops tourney unites eras

Generations of Cougars came out for 20th anniversary of ’94 championship teams

Ever since Kevin Proctor took over as ConVal’s head boys basketball coach back in October, his number one goal has been to instill a sense of family and history in his current Cougars squad. Well, perhaps the ultimate goal is to win basketball games and get into the playoffs, but the way he sees it, the one leads to the other.

That’s why this weekend’s ConVal alumni basketball tournament was so important. With this year being the 20th anniversary of the Cougars’ magical dual-championship season of 1994, a bevy of boys and girls players from that era showed up to compete, and the atmosphere was far from nostalgic — as those players mingled with the Cougars of today and tomorrow, it was easy to see how those interactions could improve hopes for ConVal’s future.

“Old teammates are reconnecting and telling stories, young guys are talking to the old guys and they’re telling them stories,” said Proctor, “and that goes a long way toward creating that sense of family and tradition. That’s what we’re trying to preach.”

Off-the-court activities aside, there was some pretty good basketball played, too; the girls team of recent graduates, led by Jess Nerz, Marena Brock and Sarah Snell, took down the ’80s/’90s squad (including, of course, three Jutras sisters.

“Seeing the Jutrases out there, and Kristen Carroll — they still had their game, they’re still good they’re still competitive,” Proctor said.

Fittingly, the boys tourney was won by the ’94-era team — with a twist. Stepping into to his older brother Jaimie’s role was Spencer Leflem, who was a team leader in 2000, the last time the Cougars made the state title game. Leflem answered a late Cory Sarkisian three with a buzzer-beater of his own to win the tourney.

“It was beautiful,” Proctor said. “That was a fun way to end it, 20 years after his brother did the same thing in the championship.”

With his championship team playing right down to the wire against a team comprised of next year’s Cougar players, Proctor had to be happy to see how the future of ConVal is shaping up, and to get the chance to show them how they did it back in the day.

“We had this will to win and determination,” Proctor said of his ’94 team, “and we just weren’t going to let anything stop us from winning that game.”

Proceeds from the tournament will go to funding next year’s boys and girls teams; $300 scholarships were also awarded to 2014 grads Malik Earle and Emmasae Hallen. The event was coordinated by a tireless group of volunteers, including assistant coach Ben Bacon, who helped organize the tourney and donated two tables made from the original ConVal gym floor to the silent auction.

“As a head coach for the program,” Proctor said, “I feel so supported by the community. It’s a good feeling — now I just have to do my job. Now all I’ve got to do is coach.”

And with this experience under the belts of next year’s Cougars, that job might get just a little bit easier.

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