The basketball coaches at Cambridge Christian School are ecstatic that the school opened a new gymnasium this season.
The athletics director at the school? Well, his life has become busier, to say the least.
“I’m at the facility for about a third of the hours I work,” said Jeff Bonkoski, the school’s athletics director.
So why is he smiling? One reason is because he also is the boys basketball coach at Cambridge Christian. But another reason Bonkoski does not mind the extra work is because the facility, the third phase in a building project at the school, has energized the student body as well as the two basketball programs.
“Those extra hours in this gym have been worth it,” he said. “Every time I walk into this space, I have a big smile on my face.”
Girls basketball coach Brian Bergman knows first-hand that having a gym was never a given.
“My first year teaching here, there was talk about building a new gym,” he said. “But that was 28 years ago.”
Now the gym is a reality, the third phase in a building project that took place in recent years at the school. Phase 1 saw the creation of more office space and a number of room revisions – “Only one room in the school was left untouched, I believe,” Bergman said – while Phase 2 saw the addition of six more classrooms that opened the door for a preschool.
Phase 3 saw the addition of six more classrooms along with the gym. And that gym hosted a boys and girls doubleheader against Rochester Area Homeschool on Saturday, Feb. 11.
Warrior boys gain revenge
Roughly three weeks ago, Rochester Area Home School handed the Cambridge Christian boys basketball team a 22-point road loss. So while the Warriors were excited to lead 34-26 at halftime in the rematch, they were far from comfortable.
“We knew what that team was capable of,” Bonkoski said. “We knew they would come out of halftime with spurt of energy. And even though we were ready for that, we allowed them to sneak back into the game.”
It only took five minutes for the Defenders to make up the deficit and take a 46-45 lead.
“They came out swinging right away,” Jeremiah Newton said. “We realized it was time to go to work.”
And that’s what the Warriors did, scoring 18 of the next 20 points to lead 63-48, then keeping the pedal to the metal to eventually expand the advantage to more than 20 points in a runaway victory.
“Our defense was phenomenal in this game,” Bonkoski said. “Caleb [Boettcher] and Christopher [Laska] up top were outstanding, racking up steals and leading fast breaks that energized the rest of our guys.”
Newton led the way with 33 points, 19 of which came in the first half, while Laska added 24 points, including 17 in the second half thanks in part to three 3-pointers.
The win capped a busy week for Cambridge Christian, which beat Chisago Lakes Baptist 75-46 on Tuesday, Feb. 7, then knocked off St. Cloud Christian 68-33 two nights later. The three victories improved the Warriors’ record to 6-14 overall and 3-5 in the Christian Athletic League.
Girls focus on ‘little wins’
In the second contest of the day, the Cambridge Christian girls stayed even with Rochester Area in the opening minutes before the Defenders roared to 12 unanswered points.
Rochester Area led 23-10 at halftime and eventually cruised to a 54-31 victory.
“They’ve got a good team, but 31 points in this game was a win for us,” Bergman said. “We haven’t reached that many times this year. And Kaaler Hoyez had a season high in points, so that was another win for us.
“That’s what we’ve had to do this year: We have to look at the little ‘wins’ within the game, because we haven’t gotten the team wins.”
Hoyez had 6 of her team’s 10 points in the first half and scored 14 of the 21 points in the second to finish with 20.
“I was just really relaxed, and I was taking open shots,” Hoyez said. “The shots went in today, and that was good.”
The contest was another learning experience for the Warriors’ young and inexperienced roster.
“Of the 13 players on the varsity, only three have any experience,” Bergman said. “We have three sophomores on the varsity who have never played before. … And all of the seventh and eighth graders I suit up on the varsity don’t have any experience, either.”
So this year has turned into an opportunity for the Warrior girls to gain experience at a young age that hopefully will translate into on-court victories down the road.
That did not make the lumps administered by Rochester Area, which improved to 17-1 overall and 5-1 in CAL play, any less painful. Cambridge Christian fell to 0-6 in the league and 0-11 on the season.
The good news? The Warriors play in a new home.
Moving to a new gym
For many years the Cambridge Christian basketball teams, along with the volleyball program, played at the Armed Forces Reserve and Community Center on Spirit Drive over by Anoka-Ramsey Community College.
“The armory was such a blessing to us for so many years,” Bonkoski said. “Honestly, if that facility had not been available, I don’t know if we would have been able to sustain a program. We have nothing but heartfelt thanks to those people we worked with over the years.”
Bergman agreed, adding: “The armory was a blessing, and it was a home for us. We were grateful for everything they did for us.”
But moving into an on-campus gym has obvious benefits.
“In the past we could only do a 90-minute practice, but now we have two hours because we don’t have to drive to and from the armory,” Bergman said.
The players on the boys and girls teams both appreciate their new “home.”
“It feels more legit,” Hoyez said. “There’s more seating, so there’s room for more fans to come to a game. The floor is really nice, too.”
Newton said he and the other members of the boys team also enjoy having a gym on campus.
“It’s nicer to have your own place, because you can get more time to shoot and do more drills on your own time,” he said. “I think it’s a home-court advantage. And during the summer, we can come here and work on things in open gyms.”
The new facility increased the number of players on both teams’ roster.
“We’ve been so limited in what we’ve been able to offer,” Bonkoski said. “This year, for the first time in five years, we’ve been able to support six different basketball teams. And we run a program for grades K-3 on Saturday mornings, and that will be a great feeder program in the future.”
Bergman said the number of players in his program rose dramatically this year.
“We went from 9 to 24 girls in the program this year, so we’re able to run three teams,” he said, noting that the program has a team for girls in grades 4-6, 7-8, and high school. “It’s been years since we’ve done that, and that has been exciting.
“And I think that’s all because of the gym.”
Another number that rose this year is Cambridge Christian’s enrollment numbers.
“Our enrollment jumped just because of the gymnasium and the new classrooms,” Bonkoski said. “It’s the first time our enrollment at the school has been over 200 [students in all grades], and that’s really exciting.”
Bergman knew having a gym within his facility would be helpful to the program, but the new facility exceeded his expectations.
“When we play other places, we come back – and I realize how much nicer our gym is than the gyms in a lot of other places,” he said. “I thought we might just piecemeal something together, but instead we waited until we could do it right.
“And I think we did it right.”
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