By GARY KINGSTON (Special for Varsity Letters)
LANGLEY – It was an historic night for B.C. senior girls basketball Saturday at the Langley Events Centre.
The Lenz legacy was cemented as Grade 12 Malia led the team her dad, Prentice, coaches to a second Triple A title since 2020 as Abbotsford Senior held on for a dramatic 67-64 win over a gutsy St. Michaels University School squad trying to win its first ever girls title.
The incomparable Lenz, who had 41 points, many on unstoppable, head-down bull rushes into the lane, plus 11 rebounds and four steals, was named tournament MVP, matching the award won by her older sister Marin in that 2020 championship season. Malia was a Grade 9 on that team,
“It’s kind of cool . . . to follow in her footsteps,” said Malia. “It’s like a roller-coaster of emotions.”
The game also marked the first time in tournament history that an all female crew officiated a championship final. Darcy Williamson, Gilda Moore and Mareesa Kelly were the women in stripes and it was hailed as a big step forward for the sport.
“I think it’s phenomenal for women,” said Prentice Lenz. “I mean, I have four daughters so I’ve promoted the fact that women should be at the forefront of anything they want to be. The fact that there were three of them and it was the first time it was a pretty special thing to be a part of.”
Prentice’s first daughter, Sienna, was a first-team all star in 2017 and 2018 for Abbotsford, with a best finish of third in 2017.
Saturday night’s game was close throughout, with SMU hanging within three, four and two points through much of the third quarter. But there was no panic on the part of the Panthers, even when the Blue Jags took a 53-48 lead early in the fourth quarter.
“Didn’t panic, the maturity was there again,” said Prentice Lenz. “And (centre) Naomi (Unger) gets an (offensive rebound putback) and one (with two minutes remaining) and hits the free throw. That’s incredible. Are you kidding me!”
Down those five points, the Panthers went on a 12-0 run capped off by Unger’s three-point play to regain control.
Every time the Jags pulled close, Malia Lenz would get the ball and just will her body to crash through the lane and throw up hopeful shots that more often than not found the bottom of the basket.
“You kind of have to feel like that,” an exhausted Lenz said right after the game. “Even if there’s contact, I’ve got to finish.”
Lenz said it was an incredible feeling to earn a second provincial title.
“I’m so excited. It’s unreal. You play the whole entire year just to get to this point and it’s here. We did it!!
While Lenz was relentless all over the court, another standout was six-foot-two Grade 12 Nyah Vermuelen who did a brilliant job on Blue Jags’ top scorer Makena Anderson in the second half. Anderson had 13 first-half points, but just six in the final 20 minutes when Vermuelen stuck to her like glue, continually closing off space so she couldn’t get the ball.
“She was one of their big shooters and and she kept getting free (in the first half), so I was like I’ve got to deny her the ball. She was trying to get away from me and I was like ‘No, that’s not happening today.’”
Alex Motherwell was the Blue Jags’ second-leading scorer with 17, while Avery Geddes chipped in with 14.
SMU head coach Lindsay Brooke said her team just didn’t have an answer for Lenz or Vermuelen’s suffocating defence on Anderson.
“It was a great game, though. I’m really proud of the way our girls battled.”
While Malia Lenz finishes her high school career with a finals MVP like Marin, there’s a fourth sister who’s going to be a big part of the Panthers’ squad in the future. Sorrel was a Grade 9 on this year’s squad and contributed a three-pointer in the final. Prentice said it’s been “phenomenal” to coach all four of his daughters and to rack up two titles. So far.
“For me, I’ve been really fortunate. It’s not something everybody gets a chance to do, coaching them and spending time with them. I’ve loved it.”
FEMALE CREW: One of the proudest people to see the all-female officiating crew was Yale Lions head coach Bobby Braich, who has been a strong advocate for getting more support for the girls’ game.
“I thought it was awesome,” he said. “I sent it to both of my teams. I’m getting thumbs up and hearts (on Twitter). It’s the start of a new movement. I’m hoping. I’m hoping we get the Arena Bowl (where the boys’ finals are) with an all ladies crew to do all the finals. I think it’s going to happen. Look at the (sellout) crowd (in the Centre Court gymnasium). It’s awesome.”
Brooke said the all-female crew was “fantastic. They did a fantastic job. We need more female referees.”
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