BURNABY — The format in play for 2018 Fraser Valley vs. Lower Mainland girls high school all-star games not only affords a fitting chance to say farewell to some of B.C.’s best graduating seniors.

It also lets us know just how good the rising group below the Class of 2018 really is, and if you happened to be on hand Tuesday evening at Burnaby’s St. Thomas More Collegiate, first watching the Grade 9-11 talent on display in the Futures game, and then grading it against that of the Grade 12-only seniors game, a case could be made that the combined underclassmen would have a good shot at beating a combined group of soon-to-be graduates.

In the end, the seniors would draw the edge with the depth of its stronger and more physical front-court players, but in watching the Fraser Valley use a huge finishing kick to defeat the Lower Mainland 107-78 in the Futures game, the level of talent on the so-called ‘undercard’ was simply off the charts.

Walnut Grove guard Tavia Rowell scored a game-high 24 points Tuesday to lead the Fraser Valley past the Lower Mainland in the 2018 Futures All-Star Game played at Burnaby’s STMC. (Photo by Howard Tsumura property of VarsityLetters.ca)

The Fraser Valley, led by the game-high 24 points of Grade 11 Walnut Grove guard Tavia Rowell, was so dominant over the final stages of the NBA-timed 48-minute affair, that they turned a tight 48-42 halftime lead into a 29-point victory.

Yet the Lower Mainland was not without its moments, especially those centring around the 6-foot-2 Grade 10 forward Jessica Clark of North Vancouver’s St. Thomas Aquinas Fighting Saints, who not only led her team with 23 points, but was a rebounding force and shot-blocking presence every moment she played. 

“Not to take anything away from the Lower Mainland,” began Sarah Mouritzen, the head coach of Chilliwack’s G.W. Graham Grizzlies, who guided the Fraser Valley bench, “but that Fraser Valley group of girls is so experienced that they’re not young kids anymore.

“So many of them are B.C. team members, Team Canada members, or players who are experienced in the provincial tournament. So it was amazing and fun to watch.”

Rowell, who led Walnut Grove to B.C. JV silver as a ninth grader, and then on deep playoff runs the past two seasons at the senior varsity level, is just as dangerous in April all-star games as she is in sudden-elimination games in March.

In fact when her team decided to throw on a full-court press while trailing 16-12 in the first quarter, Rowell and her younger cousin Marin Lenz of Abbotsford, took over the game.

Lenz made a pair of steals and Rowell another, and all three pressure-induced thefts led to Rowell lay-ins, a surge of six straight points that fueled a 20-0 run between the first two frames and put the Valley ahead to stay at 32-16.

“She is so fun to play with, so quick,” said Rowell of Lenz, who added seven points. “She passes me the ball, I pass it to her. It was just so much fun to play with her and so many of the best players in the province.”

Of course the rest of Rowell’s teammates would say the same about her.

“She is just a fun kid to watch play,” admitted Mouritzen of Rowell, who was able to laugh at herself when she botched a showtime ‘Around the World’ move in the opening minute of the fourth quarter.

“Tavia comes in here and she is just ready to play, she even wanted to get Deanna to dunk,” continued Mouritzen of G.W. Graham’s 6-foot-1 Grade 11 forward Deanna Tuchscherer. “Tavia was going to give the ally-oop. She is a fun kid. She’s unorthodox. She is not your typical player.”

Neither is Clark.

If you watched her on Tuesday you were struck by the level of confidence that she now projects within her own game, ready to use her gifts of length, strength and athleticism to dominate.

Ask her about all of that and she doesn’t shy away anymore.

“(My confidence) is getting better and better,” said Clark, who saw time on the court along with her STA teammate, forward Gemma Cutler.

“I used to be a really nervous kid and get scared, but now, as I’ve gotten better, so has my confidence level.”

Clark, who scored 15 of her 23 points in the second half, got things going in the third quarter by stepping out beyond arc and dropping a three-pointer.

“My mom wants me to shoot more from the outside,” laughed Clark, “so I know she wanted me to take that shot. She was here tonight watching.”

Dr. Charles Best’s Nikki Cabuco (right) and Surprise Munie of Britannia were two of the Futures Game standouts Tuesday in Burnaby. (Photo by Howard Tsumura property of VarsityLetters.ca)

Some of the game’s other highlights? We can’t mention them all, but some that stood out:

*Tuchscherer’s floor game continues to expand, and as she melds it with her bread-and-butter inside physicality, her overall presence is impossible to ignore. She finished with 12 points.

*Fellow Fraser Valley teammate Nikki Cabuco from Coquitlam’s Dr. Charles Best, hit a pair of second-half triples and finished with nine points. But more than that, she looked like her own name brand, a player from an unheralded high school team who finally got a much-deserved opportunity to shine.

*Whistler’s Pietra Kamstra, a 6-foot-1 Grade 11, is best described as smooth.

On a team which will battle the likes of STA and STM In the Lower Mainland next season, Kamstra is an athleitc and mobile player with long strides and a great sense to score the ball in traffic.

*Britannia’s Surprise Munie, in an all-star game setting, shows even more how effective she is in open space, with a level of creativity and athleticism that is among the very best in this province.

*Semiahmoo’s team is filled with superstar Grade 9 talent, and the shine that forward Izzy Forsyth brought to the Valley squad with an inside-outside game that yielded 10 points is scary.

Here’s the full skinny on the numbers from Tuesday’s game:

THE FUTURES GAME (played at Burnaby-St. Thomas More Collegiate)

FRASER VALLEY 107 (28-20-24-35)

Nikki Cabuco (Coquitlam-Dr. Charles Best) 9, Jayden Gill (Abbotsford-Rick Bateman) 4, Makenna Gardner (Langley Christian) 4, Kyla Smith (Abbotsford-MEI) 7, Jessica Parker (PoCo-Riverside) 5, Sammy Shields (PoCo-Riverside) 3, Jessica Wisotzki (Langley-Walnut Grove) 7, Tavia Rowell (Langley-Walnut Grove) 24, Marin Lenz (Abbotsford) 7, Faith Dut (Surrey-Semiahmoo) 2, Izzy Forsyth (Surrey-Semiahmoo) 10, Grace Killins (Coquitlam-Centennial), Tana Pankratz (Abbotsford-Yale) 3, Emily Instant (Port Moody-Heritage Woods), Deanna Tuchscherer (Chilliwack-G.W. Graham) 12, Aliza Dueck (Chilliwack-G.W. Graham) 2, Jenna Dyck (Langley-Brookswood), Sophia Kramer (Surrey-Sullivan Heights) 6.

LOWER MAINLAND 78 (16-26-16-20)

Camie Ward (North Vancouver-Argyle) 2, Emma Stewart-Barnett (Burnaby-St. Thomas More) 6, Gemma Cutler (North Vancouver-St. Thomas Aquinas) 2, Jalynne Huynh (Burnaby Central) 5, Janel Tantengco (Vancouver-Killarney), Jenna Tobias (Whistler) 2, Jessica Clark (North Vancouver-St. Thomas Aquinas) 23, Julia Strigl (North Vancopuver-Handsworth) 3, Kanon Iwachi (New Westminster) 3, Kara Moscovitz (Richmond-Hugh Boyd) 7, Liz Kennedy (Richmond-R.A. McMath) 4, Pietra Kamstra (Whistler) 9, Surprise Munie (Vancouver-Britannia) 10, Yvonna Acimovic (Vancouver-Lord Byng)

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