LANGLEY — In the days leading up to the Tsumura Basketball Invitational’s tip off this past Wednesday at the Langley Events Centre, Seaquam Seahawks head coach Lucky Toor did a quick scan of the Super 16 draw his team would be a part of.
With a hopeful bent, Toor imagined all of the potential foes his North Delta-based team could well face if it were to advance all the way to Saturday’s championship final.
It didn’t take long for him to realize it was a path paved with similar foes.
“So we had four losses on the season coming in here this week,” admitted Toor on Saturday night upon the coompletion of the tournament, “and what I thought our draw might be ended up being those same three teams again.”
Quad-A No. 3 Seaquam had arrived at the LEC carrying a pair of losses to the No. 1-ranked Argyle, a loss to Triple-A No. 1 Brookswood and a loss to Quad-A No. 2 Riverside.
So after opening with a 73-54 win over Quad-A No. 10 Dr. Charles Best on Wednesday, guess who the Seahawks wound up playing over the tournament’s final three rounds ?
You guessed it.
Seaquam beat Argyle 79-66 in the quarterfinals, beat Brookswood 67-40 in the semifinals, then on Saturday, in the Super 16 finale, played the game of their year thus far, topping Riverside 74-68 to capture the championship title.
“I was kind of laughing inside… I was thinking ‘Here we go again,’” said Toor, as all around him players and parents celebrated the team’s four-day title run. “I think our players were hungry to avenge some of those losses.”
Riverside head coach Paul Langford tipped his cap to the Seahawks.
On Friday night, after his team’s grinding win over Burnaby Central, one in which the opposition Wildcats had staged a late rally, ultimately forcing the Rapids to keep all of their main rotation players on the floor to final buzzer, Langford looked ahead in the post-game and called the Seahawks “…a juggernaut.”
By Saturday night, the description was apropos.
“I’ve looked at our shooting percentage and it wasn’t very good, and that’s because of them,” Langford said of Seaquam’s under-rated defence. “They did some really good things and it wasn’t our night. We didn’t get going in flow and it was fine though… you can’t be great every night. I think Burnaby Central took a lot out of us last night. They battled us to the end and our legs weren’t perfect. But I am proud of my kids. They made the final and that was really cool.”
CAMRYN TAIT: THE NEXT GENERATION OF A TRUE B.C. BASKETBALL FAMILY ARRIVES!
Camryn Tait owns a dribble-drive game which comes complete with one of the most explosive first steps in all of B.C. girls high school basketball.
Yet despite all of the natural talent, physical gifts, and most of all, the work ethic and determination to succeed, there was something last season which seemed to be holding her back from taking those first few steps out of her comfort zone into that rarified place populated by the difference makers.
On Saturday, the long and graceful 6-foot-1 Grade 10 forward may well have put all of that behind her, doing for the first time what all of the great ones do on a regular basis, and that is to seize control of a game’s proceedings over the final half of the fourth quarter.
Tait scored seven of her game-high 23 points over a 3:58 span, both helping to shepherd and clock-drain what was a newly-seized 62-60 lead and turn it into a 73-68 lead with just 27 seconds remaining after hitting a pair of free throws.
It all started when teammate Syra Toor beat a sideline trap in the front court with a poised lob which found a streaking Tait in position to knife through the paint for a lay-in with 4:25 remaining.
That was followed by what will stand as being the shot of the game, considering that the long ball, in its greatest moment of need, had not been considered something that Tait carried around in her figurative bag, ready to unfurl with belief on a moment’s notice.
Yet there it was.
Teammate Callie Brost drove to the Riverside baseline, then turned and rifled a one-handed pass straight into the hands of Tait, who without hesitation rose and sunk a triple right in front of her own team’s bench for a 67-62 lead with 3:49 left.
Syra Toor’s lay-in off a base-line drive, then forward Neelum Sidhu’s rebound and put-back off a coast-to-coast Tait drive made it 71-65 with 2:09 remaining.
Riverside’s Mikella Campanile, a hard-nosed 5-foot-9 Grade 11 guard, who shone over the late stages for the Rapids, knocked down a three-pointer off a pass from the team’s star point guard Avery Sussex with six seconds left on the shot clock, and although the Rapids had pulled to within a possession at 71-68, Seaquam had the ball with 1:03 remaining.
Tait later capped the winning surge by hitting a pair of free throws with 27.1 seconds remaining as Sussex was forced to commit the Rapids’ fifth team foul. Tait sunk both to give Seaquam a two possession lead at 73-68.
Aftwerwards, Tait was named the TBI’s 2023 Super 16 tournament MVP.
“Camryn’s growth, especially when moments are on the line… that’s what I have been talking to her about… the mental side of things,” said Toor. “It’s ‘Camryn, we need you to make plays, we need you to take over.’ She plays an unselfish brand of basketball but when the game is on the line, you need certain players to step up.
“Today, she certainly did that,” Toor continued, “especially given the matchups. She even stepped outside of her comfort zone. She doesn’t shoot the outside shot much, but what a huge three she hit tonight.”
Riverside head coach Langford summed it all up: “We didn’t figure out the match-ups very well and Camryn Tait really hit some big shots which was tough for us to handle.”
As in all things, Tait herself said that after all those hours spent in the gym spent making the three ball her friend, the time was right on Saturday night to step outside of herself for her teammates.
“I have been working a lot on my shot, it’s something I have been practising,” she said. “It’s been just finding the confidence in myself to take that shot when it was the right time.”
Sydney Roufosse, the 6-foot-3 Grade 11 who logged big minutes and battled strong all game long finished with 14 points for the winners.
Mackenzie Henderson, the Grade 11 three-point shooting ace, who garnered a lot more defensive attention on Saturday after huge production against Argyle and Brookswood, hit three triples as part of an 11-point performance.
Grade 10 guards Syra Toor and Brost each finished with eight points while Grade 11 forward/guard Sidhu scored seven.
Of course if that Tait surname sounds familiar, your hunch is correct.
Camryn Tait is the daughter of Brian Tait, one of the glue players at point guard on what has been named the greatest boys high school boys basketball team in B.C. history, the 1987-88 Richmond Colts, who that season won the second of the school’s back-to-back B.C. top-tiered titles.
Brian Tait and well-known teammate Ron Putzi both played Div. 1 basketball at New Mexico State university when it was a true rarity for B.C. players to find spots en masse in the NCAA.
Tait later returned to finish his post-secondary career as a standout with the UBC Thunderbirds.
One of Camryn’s basketball-playing uncles is Alan Tait who earlier also starred at Richmond and later played under the legendary Ralph Miller at Oregon State, starting for the Beavers in his senior season when the team was nationally ranked.
“Basketball has been a part of my life since I was growing up so that is obviously huge,” Tait said when asked about the hoops influences she inherited and has so ably grown in to. “It’s been great to get advice from my dad because he has been in these siutautons and games… advice from him on things I need to work on. Everything I need to work on.”
Riverside had four players hit double figures on offence, led by the 22 points of the standout Sussex.
Grade 11 guards Jorja Hart, Mariah Mendoza, Mikella Campanile and Annabelle Neufeld had 13, 11, 10 and eight points respectively.
A WEEK FOR CHAMPIONSHIP HABITS AND MOMENTS THAT INSPIRE
The Seahawks were not unique in their habits this week at the Tsumura Basketball Invitational.
Many teams adopt a mindset of making TBI’s four-games-in-four-days blueprint a dry run for the exact same challenge at the provincial championships which await — in the same LEC gymnasiums— this coming March.
Yet few may have taken it down to the exact details like Toor and the Seahawks did.
“For us, coming into this week, it was about hitting the re-set button and just being who we are, and so we seriously treated this like it was provincials week,” he began.
“We had kids that were nursing some minor injuries, maybe feeling little bit under the weather… those types of things that you just have to deal with when it is provincial basketball. We treated it like that every single day, what’s it going to feel like because the only way you can gain experience is by going through those experiences.
“It’s a December tournament win so you have to take it with a grain of salt, but having said that, it will give us the belief moving forward.”
For Riverside, a previous TBI tourney winner (2021), as well as a provincial runner-up (2022) and champion (2023), the process of building towards a deep March run is a part of their program’s DNA under coaches Langford and Jeremy Neufeld.
The Seahawks, who should move into the top spot in the Quad-A Top 10 this week after wins over No. 1 Argyle and No. 2 Riverside here in Langley, are just now starting to experience the pressurized environment that accompanies the top end of the B.C. senior girls varsity world.
Toor sensed it, and as fate would have it, all he to do was pull out his phone for an easy way to get his team back to breathing, smiling and just being in the moment on TBI’s Championship Saturday.
“I was able to share a picture with them from when they won some fifth- and sixth-grade championship… and all of their faces looked so young,” explained Toor, who got one of those notifications on his smart phone that Saturday was the fifth anniversary of that photograph.
“It just popped up on my feed, so it was five years ago to the day,” he continued with a smile. “I pulled it out at halftime of our game to loosen us up, and they all laughed about it.”
Indeed, time flies when you’re having fun.
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