LANGLEY — There is one thing that Abbotsford Panthers head coach Prentice Lenz swears never comes up in conversation as he and his players dissect the day-to-day workings of a high school basketball team.
And that is, how has a team so young, with only one senior in its main rotation, been able to continue a magical run through the 2016-17 campaign?
“We haven’t talked to them about it,” Lenz said after the baby Panthers ended the Brookswood Bobcats bid to win a fourth straight title Friday with a 69-65 victory in the semifinals of the Telus 2017 B.C. senior girls Triple A championships at the Langley Events Centre.
“The girls practice hard and play hard. So we haven’t felt the need to address it. Whatever happens, happens. They’ve been good with that philosophy.”
On Friday, that rare blend of unflappable tenacity, elder skill and flat-out belief more associated with veteran teams manifested itself once more, and when Grade 11 guard Sienna Lenz drained a critical trey with 42 seconds left to snap a tie and give her team a 66-63 lead, then hit two free throws with 5.4 seconds left to make her team’s final output complete, the coach’s credo was proven to be correct.
Nothing needed to be said.
The Panthers, who start one senior in defensive ace Gabrielle MacGregor, and whose seven-girl rotation is completed by two Grade 11’s, two Grade 10’s and two Grade 9’s, not only prevented the Bobcats from qualifying for a fifth-straight championship final, but advanced to their first title game since winning it all 33 years ago, in 1984.
The 5-foot-8 Sienna Lenz, picked tournament MVP two weekends ago when the Panthers beat the Bobcats in the Fraser Valley championship final at Brookswood, was once again the best player on the floor, scoring 31 points and grabbing 18 rebounds.
Grade 9 sister, 5-foot-6 Marin, scored 14 points, while Grade 11 guard Sydney Fetterly had 10 points, and Grade 10 forward Kelsey Roufosse nine points and 11 rebounds.
“Even though we’re young, we have developed so much in the past year,” said Roufosse. “It’s really brought us to this point, and now, to be in the championship (final) is amazing.”
Brookswood, itself a team with plenty of youth, suffered its third loss of the season to Abbotsford.
Senior B.C. Player of the Year Louise Forsyth scored 29 points and grabbed 15 rebounds. Grade 10 guard Jenna Dick had 15 points and Grade 11 post Brooklyn Golt had 10 points.
“It’s a tough one to swallow,” said Bobcats’ coach Chris Veale, “but if you ever get in a fight, you’re not going to just stand there and get punched, so we went down swinging.”
Brookswood came out strong in the first half and built an 11-point lead, but behind Sienna Lenz’s relentless drive, the Panthers kept coming back.
And although their depth was tested by fouls, head coach Lenz made a statement to start the fourth quarter, when, with his team trailing 55-53, he in brought key defenders MacGregor and Roufosse, even though each was carrying four fouls.
“They mean so much because they battle so hard,” Lenz said. “(Gabrielle) just gives her heart and soul to us, she defends and she goes after everything. And Kelsey is such a huge presence for us inside. We were just going to ride out whatever we had to ride out and then if we had to deal with something else, we would.
“We’ve dealt with things all year that way. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t. Tonight it worked.”
Added Sienna Lenz: “Tonight we just gritted it out. We’ve all matured a lot. Last year was our first year at senior. And to get that experience of intensity was great.”
For the Bobcats, the second half saw them battle to get the clean looks they wanted, and in the end, their 26 per cent shooting from the field over the final two quarters did them in.
The Panthers by comparison, shot 43 per cent for the game.
Brookswood’s Forsyth, headed to NCAA Gonzaga next season, was six-of-six from the free throw line but no other Bobcats stepped up to the charity stripe the entire evening.
The victory creates a Panthers vs. Panthers clash in the final.
Surrey’s Lord Tweedsmuir Panthers defeated crosstown rival Panorama Ridge Thunder 66-64.
It’s the first time in the 68-year history of the girls highest-tiered hoop final that two teams with the same nickname have met to decide the title.
With the Vernon Panthers in the Double A final against North Vancouver’s Seycove Seyhawks, three of the senior varsity teams vying for B.C. crowns have the same name.
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