PORT COQUITLAM — Cerys Merton was born with a drive that needs no ignition.
And these days, as we hit the stretch drive to the B.C. senior girls basketball championships, it’s a most fitting way to describe the energy and the presence that the Terry Fox Ravens’ senior point guard brings each time she sets foot on the hardwood… that place where her engine never idles.
“I definitely think that her No. 1 thing is her motor… her compete level,” says UBC head women’s basketball coach Erin McAleenan when asked to highlight the relentless qualities of the 5-foot-5 point guard who is set to join the Thunderbirds this fall, just ahead of the 2022-23 season.
“She wants to play high energy all the time, get aggressive on defence, get out there and push the pace as a point guard,” added McAleenan. “Cerys has been a part of a lot of winning programs over the years. She knows what it takes to win, and what it takes to compete every day in practice.”
That resume, as the engine of Port Coquitlam’s Quad-A No. 3-ranked Ravens, has been impossible to miss.
As one of the favourites to hoist all the spoils at the 2022 championships this March, Merton and the rest of her immensely-talented teammates have already proven an ability to play beyond their years.
Prior to the cancelled 2021 championships, the Ravens went undefeated as Grade 9s en route to the 2019 B.C. junior title, then as Grade 10s in 2020 advanced all the way to the senior Quad-A finals were they were ousted by Surrey’s dynastic Semiahmoo Thunderbirds.
This season, one in which all of the teams have battled to stay and healthy and focused through the pandemic, the Ravens, along with a handful of others including Langley’s No. 4 Walnut Grove Gators, Vancouver’s No. 5 Sir Winston Churchill Bulldogs, Kelowna’s No. 2 Okanagan Mission Huskies, and the crosstown rival and No. 1-ranked Riverside Rapids have come together as something of a mash of favourites, each ready to wage a battle of attrition all of the way to B.C. title.
And the exciting part from a fan’s standpoint is that nobody has yet rounded into form, including the Ravens.
“We’re finding our groove again… still trying to find it,” explained Merton. “I got COVID earlier and so I was out, but now I am back trying to be the kind of leader my coaches expect of me. I am trying to bring the team up, and trying to help us win more games again.”
Alas, a nasty case of shin splints didn’t help Merton’s cause as the tough-and-talented OKM Huskies came south for Friday and Saturday games at the Ravens Nest.
Terry Fox came through with a split, winning the opener 71-53 then losing the rematch 90-80.
Merton averaged 17.5 ppg over the weekend, complimenting the outstanding efforts of talented players like Emily Sussex, Lauren Clements and Ana Misic, who have done their part by providing points and rebounds by the bushel.
Sussex had 19 points and 10 rebounds in Friday’s win, while Misic and Clements put together respective points-rebounds averages of 19.5-11.0 and 15.5-15.0 over the two-game series.
Also of note?
Okanagan-Mission’s 5-foot-10 senior guard/wing Stella LaGrange, who in the fall joins Merton as a UBC Thunderbirds’ freshman, scored 28 points Saturday for the Huskies. That duo will be further supplemented on UBC’s Point Grey campus in 2022-23 by a third B.C. recruit, Langley Christian’s 6-foot-2 forward Taelor Coxford.
Now, coming off a loss and heading into a new week where practice becomes primary to re-set the team’s tone and focus, there is no better player to have than someone like Merton.
“Mentally, she is an unreal leader and she sets the tone in practice, every day to compete,” explains Terry Fox co-coach Mike Carkner, who adds that the level of joy Merton has to play the game with her teammates is a quality that can’t be overlooked.
“That is a huge factor… some athletes just have it,” continues Carkner. “She has a joy to play the game, be in the gym, and compete. That lifts her and the people around her. She’s a special kid that way, and that joy and love for the game is what propels players forward at the next level. You need it to keep getting better.”
Yet there is another factor that stokes Merton’s inner drive.
Lacking the physical stature of most of this province’s players of influence at just 5-foot-5, a small part of her can’t help but wonder if Canada’s broader university coaching pool might have questions as to her post-secondary effectiveness.
But don’t get the idea that she is holding any grudges, because that’s just not in her personality.
Instead, she is celebrating both the opportunity UBC brings, and the common thread she shares with her new head coach-to-be.
“Being a shorter point guard, many people… they don’t look past you, but perhaps they doubt your abilities,” Merton explains. “But Erin, being a person who played the point guard position and was also a smaller guard, I could relate to her and her vision.”
In addition, Merton will get the chance to work alongside Diana Lee, the former Thunderbird point guard and now, first-year UBC assistant coach who was named the B.C. senior girls top-tiered championship MVP in 2009 when she and former ‘Birds’ star forward Kris Young led North Vancouver’s Handsworth Royals to the first of back-to-back provincial titles.
Ask McAleenan about all such things point guard-related, and it’s evident that she is cut from the same cloth as Merton.
“The No. 1 thing is attitude,” begins McAleenan, herself a former 5-foot-4 point guard who played in the AUS at Acadia University.
“You just can’t think of (height) as a limiting factor,” she adds. “You play fast, to your strengths and off of your instincts. With Cerys, the big thing is how she carries herself. She never turns down a battle.”
Cerys Merton’s back-to-back coast-to-coast lay-ups spur Terry Fox’s late 10-0 run, Ravens top Yale in Final Four to draw Totems in Quad-A final! https://t.co/KEow0qoXS4@tfsathletics @langleyevents @bc4agirlsbball @yalebasketball @totemsbball @allisonmcneill @VancouverFrosty pic.twitter.com/N5jlDvOTUF— Howard Tsumura (@htsumura) February 29, 2020
Case in point were the back-to-back coast-to-coast layups Merton scored during a pivotal, late-game 10-0 run which carried Terry Fox past Abbotsford’s Yale Lions and into the 2020 B.C. final against Semiahmoo almost two years ago.
Put Merton between the lines, and as Carkner says, the level of self-belief she has in her game is what allows her to meet big moments head-on.
“She has got such an aggressive mindset, she’s so competitive at both ends of the floor,” begins Carkner. “She has got so much confidence in her ability to make the big shot… even in practice she needs it, she is the one that wants to take it. I tease her about it, because having that kind of confidence in yourself is what makes you great.”
For her part, however, everything is geared towards helping her team reach their ultimate goal in March, and she doesn’t hesitate to talk out loud of her team’s ability to re-trench in the face of challenges and hurdles.
“We’ve had so many challenges, from losing our good friend and teammate,” she begins of the late Karin Khuong, who lost her two-year battle with cancer in October of 2020, “to everything surrounding COVID. But we’ve shown ourselves that while we’ve been in stressful situations, while we’ve been underdogs, and when we’ve had a target on our backs, that we’ve been able to push through, and that we can do it over again.”
Somewhere in all of that, people can’t help but see the best of Cerys Merton.
It’s the motor she brings to the court, the unabashed joy she carries for the game, and most of all, the fact that she never turns down a battle.
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