LANGLEY — They weren’t underdogs, yet provincial high school basketball championships don’t exactly grow on trees in the East Vancouver neighbourhood they call home.
And so on the occasion of Saturday’s 81-73 win over the Langley Christian Lightning in the championship final of the B.C. senior girls Double-A basketball tournament, the words of Britannia Bruins’ assistant coach Mitra Tshan so fittingly sounded like something straight out of Hoosiers.
“This is not just for us,” Tshan said during a post-game celebration on the court of the Langley Events Centre which had the fell of a neighbourhood block party.
“This is for East Van, this is for public schools, this for the small schools, and this is for a community which has been with us from Day 1, from the time the girls were still so little.”
By Saturday, two of those former baby Bruins, tournament MVP Shemaiah Abatayo and Top Defensive Player Surprise Munie, had grown into two of the best players in the province.
And when coach Mike Evans started alternating each has his primary ball-handling guard, both the built-in chemistry of the pair, as well as their combined skill sets as attacking players was seemingly enhanced in what double as the biggest and final games of their high school careers.
“We have always tried to do that, to make the number two guard a point guard at times,” explained Evans, “so if they double-team our point guard, we get the ball to the other player.”
With about six minutes left in Saturday’s title tilt against the Lightning, two separate facets of the Britannia schematic combined to turn the momentum of the game in their favour.
Leading 68-67, the Bruins scored on back-to-back trips up the floor by alternating first Munie and then Abatayo as the point guard.
As well, Evans found ways to keep both 6-foot-1 post Tiana Sacco and 6-foot post Lagi Vaa on the floor at the same time.
With Munie and Abatayo getting into an attacking rhythm, free throw trips began to mount for the Bruins, and although Britannia shot horribly from the stripe over the final two minutes, both posts made huge contributions.
Vaa’s turnaround lay-in with 1:59 left made it 76-71, before Sacco, grabbed an offensive rebound and scored to make it 78-71 less than a minute later.
“We had some lay-ups that we missed and some other things that could have kept us in it, but it started to slip at the end,” said Langley Christian head coach Danie Gardner. “But we went 28-3, and I’m happy with how hard we battled. I couldn’t ask for anything more.”
The Lighting — who got 18 points from Makenna Gardner, 17 from Ava Krepp, 13 from Lainey Shelvey and 12 from Sydney Bradshaw — were indeed mired in an offensive funk over the last five minutes, and they could never dig in their heels to gain traction because on three separate shooting fouls awarded to the Bruins, Vaa was able to tip Britannia misses and turn them into new possessions for her team.
“It feels good to do on the court what you’re meant to do,” said Vaa.
That was actually a perfect way to describe a perfect day for the Britannia Bruins.
There was Vaa herself, who just showed up at the school and tried out for the team at the start of the school year after moving down from Bella Coola.
“We said ‘Wow, this kid can play,’” remembered Tshan in the post-game celebration. “She is smart, she has the softest hands, she works hard and today was the best she has ever played.”
And then there’s Abatayo, the Trinity Western-bound point guard, whose game just kept getting better all week.
“This feels so great, so unreal, because when I was growing up in The Philippines, I was always with my dad carrying the ball,” said Abatayo, who eventually moved with her family to Canada for fifth grade. “I never thought I would be able to play. Until I left, girls didn’t play basketball.”
Which brings us back to Tshan, and the words she speaks on the floor of the LEC in-between hugging virtually every person in sight.
“Anything is possible,” she begins. “That’s what we’ve always told these kids. You just have to believe.”
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