Burnaby Central's Ankita Chopra (left) and Riverside's Rae Roycroft gt all tied up during Fraser North Quad-A championship game played Feb. 18, 2024 at Simon Fraser University. (Photo by Howard Tsumura property of Varsity Letters 2024. All Rights Reserved)
Feature High School Girls Basketball

Fraser North Quad-A final: After Riverside tops Burnaby Central in zone title clash, here’s 5 Things You Need to Know about the Rapids, the Wildcats and the best current rivalry in B.C. girls high school basketball!

BURNABY — The countdown is now on to the tip-off of the 2024 B.C. senior girls basketball championships, and at the largest Quad-A tier, Sunday evening’s marquee Fraser North zone championship game clash which saw the Riverside Rapids defeat the Burnaby Central Wildcats 82-72 was a reminder of one simple fact.

In year where there has been just enough parity to suggest the potential of a surprising new champion, there seems a very good chance that if either of Sunday’s two combatants is to take home all of the spoils on the evening of March 2, the task will have been accomplished at the expense of one or the other at some stage over this annual four-day test of wills.

On Sunday, that much made itself very clear over the course of a game in which both teams had their own specific hurdles to overcome.

PoCo’s Rapids, the defending B.C. champs, were coming off a week in which its roster had been ravaged by flu, including star point guard Avery Sussex, who somehow still found a way to dazzle.

Meanwhile, the Wildcats were playing high-stakes hoops with their full line-up available for the first time in almost six weeks as key players like post Sophia Morton and guard Kierra Blundell gear up for this senior laden group’s best chance at claiming the brass ring.

With all of that said, here’s five things that Sunday’s game told us about why Riverside and Burnaby Central remain among the prohibitive favourites to win the B.C. Quad-A title.

Riverside’s Avery Sussex scored 33 points en route to tournament MVP honours during Fraser North Quad-A championship game against Burnaby Central played Feb. 18, 2024 at Simon Fraser University. (Photo by Howard Tsumura property of Varsity Letters 2024. All Rights Reserved)


No, not a news flash, but please read on.

Last season, the final two meetings between these two teams, who have gone on to forge the best rivalry in B.C. girls hoops since the start of the 2022-23 season, were instant classics.

Burnaby Central beat Riverside 74-61 in the Fraser North title game by exerting its will and its systems on the Rapids.

But just days later, in the B.C. semifinals, Riverside put Sussex and all of her 5-foot-7 frame into the post, and her ability to morph into a modern-day version of the Lakers’ rookie Magic Johnson circa 1979-80 helped the Rapids win 56-44. The next day they beat Langley’s Walnut Grove Gators to win the school’s first-ever senior girls varsity hoops crown.

Watching Riverside from a schematic point-of-view, has, of course, been every basketball-loving fan’s dream during the Sussex era, one which officially has four more games remaining before said superstar embarks on her NCAA career at UC-Davis next season.

On Sunday, the Rapids dusted off those sets from last season and found some success, yet they seemed more like decoys towards a larger goal.

And that’s because Sussex, who scored a game-high 33 points en route to being named game MVP, was on this night, a face-the-basket, attack-minded force.

Burnaby Central Wildcats head coach Chris Ducharme will preach preparation as his team looks to move on as an improved basketball team following Sunday’s Fraser North zone championship final loss to Riverside. (File photo by Howard Tsumura property of Varsity Letters 2022. All Rights Reserved)

And the moment which best illustrated her wizardry came at the top of the arc with 3:12 left in the third quarter.

To set the scene, Annabelle Neufeld had been hitting big shots and Jorja Hart was making a habit out of court-length forays to the rim for easy, back-breaking buckets.

That’s when Sussex got the ball at the top of three-point arc, and playing off everything that was happening all over the court, created just enough doubt as to her final intentions that she drew Central’s star guard Ankita Chopra into taking her fourth foul of the game.

Fouled on her three-point attempt, Sussex drained all three for a 59-44 lead and a gap that the Wildcats discovered was just daunting enough to prove ultimately impenetrable.

Afterwards, Ducharme talked about all that Sussex brought and what his team has to be able to do should they meet again on the championship side of the draw at the BC’s.

“…Riverside has shooters everywhere, but one girl who is NCAA level and can create her own shot, create for her teammates, and can create when we are trying to put the best defence against her,” summed Burnaby Central head coach Chris Ducharme of Sussex.

“I don’t think they won the game in the post like they did the last time,” he said looking back to last season’s B.C. semifinals. “I think they won the game with Avery taking over in the second half. There was the foul on the three and then all the driving and getting to the basket. She split our help. It’s what she does. We have to fine tune that. We can’t have an inch between our doubles. It’s got to be layered so she can’t get through that wall.”

Riverside’s Jorja Hart (left) and Rae Roycroft keep a careful eye on Kierra Blundell of the Burnaby Central Wildcats during Fraser North Quad-A championship game played Feb. 18, 2024 at Simon Fraser University. (Photo by Howard Tsumura property of Varsity Letters 2024. All Rights Reserved)


Simply put: Really, really good.

The 5-foot-8 senior guard is a member of the Whitecaps Elite and headed to Arizona State next season for a Big 12 soccer career and thus has been limited in the amount of time she can practice with her hardcourt teammates.

That she did everything in her power to return to the court after extended time away to play her final season of high school hoops is an amazing story in and of itself.

Yet when it comes time to actually watch her play with her combination of power, dexterity and raw instinct, you immediately see a smaller version of Oak Bay’s former recent standout Sophie de Goede, the 6-foot-1 Canadian national team No. 8, who juggled both sports during her Breakers’ high school career which finished in 2017 and continued on both fronts at Queens University.

Due to her soccer commitments, Blundell has been unable to not only fully integrate with her teaming practice, but also to get the most basic reps to hone what she already has which is, on the offensive end, a dribble-drive game made fearsome by her agiliity and physicality.

And when she plays?

The entertainment factor is a 10 because she contests everything, hustles and places the possibility of second-chance opportunities at the very top of her list.

She is strong and physical (she scored 11 points in Sunday’s loss), and in the end, from a purely selfish basketball perspective, you think to yourself just how good she could be in her second sport if it was instead her first sport.

And the answer: A place among the province’s elite senior hardcourt talents.

Gliding through the lane to the hoop against Burnaby Central is Riverside’s Jorja Hart during Fraser North Quad-A championship game played Feb. 18, 2024 at Simon Fraser University. (Photo by Howard Tsumura property of Varsity Letters 2024. All Rights Reserved)


Last season, as a Grade 10 given a huge role on the province’s top senior girls basketball team, guard Jorja Hart, at 5-foot-10, was that lengthy, long-striding wildcard stat stuffer who was just beginning to learn the myriad ways in which she could exploit a mismatch.

This season, with a title ring and that much more experience, she’s finding those opportunities are coming in even greater frequency, all despite the fact that on a height-challenged Rapids team of which she is one its tallest players, has come added responsibilities in the painted areas.

In Sunday’s win, it was impossible to miss the number of times Hart was able to leak out and get into her full stride en route to floor-length open lay-ups as she scored eight of her 10 fourth-quarter points over the final 3:37 of the frame.

“One of the things last year is that we had (6-foot-2) Natalie Curley,” Langford said of the current Simon Fraser  freshman post. “So Jorja was allowed to just fly. This year, I haven’t let her fly because she has to rebound. We’re not as big. But I think she still sneakily flies. She still runs the floor. She picks her spot and she gets in that pocket.”

Hart is also a disciplined cutter in the half-court, and on Sunday, it was the amount of versatility which both she and Sussex put on display while surrounded by a lot of other talented teammates which defined to all why it is so hard to scheme ways to stop the Rapids.

Burnaby Central’s Sophia Morton (right) and Kierra Blundell double-team Riverside’s Mikella Campanile during Fraser North Quad-A championship game played Feb. 18, 2024 at Simon Fraser University. (Photo by Howard Tsumura property of Varsity Letters 2024. All Rights Reserved)


Just how big a factor the 6-foot-plus post player is going to have in next week’s Quad-A provincial tournament is anyone’s guess.

Yet for those teams in the upper half of the Top 10 rankings who have spent time hovering at or near that No. 1 spot, the presence of just such a player gives them the option, on their best days, of being able to dictate the style and attitude of games when those games are going to mean the most.

We’re talking about Argyle’s 6-foot-2 senior Nathalie Francis, Seaquam’s 6-foot-3 Grade 11 Sydney Roufosse and Burnaby Central’s 6-foot senior Sophia Morton.

Of that trio, Morton is just now getting back onto the court after missing a span of about six straight weeks recovering from illness and injury.

On Sunday, she was perhaps the most revelatory story unfolding on the huge Simon Fraser floor over the course of the Fraser North title game.

Active on both ends of the floor, and doing her best to defy the rust that was still there by diving on the floor for loose balls, her heavy-minute load surprised yet confirmed the commitment she brings to her team for a run into March Madness.

“For a kid to be away with zero activity for six weeks and then practically play almost 40 minutes is rare,” said Central head coach Ducharme of Morton, also an elite swimmer whose on-court motor may well be an off-shoot of her penchant in the pool for the sprint events.

“She was a little rusty at the rim, but in the second half she had her way and she made some big buckets for us,” added Ducharme of Morton, who was winning her one-on-ones in the paint enough times to suggest that, in isolations, she will be drawing double teams once the provincials hit.

Morton finished with 14 points on Sunday in the the loss to Riverside.

With Riverside’s Annabelle Neufeld (left) closing in, Burnaby Central’s Ankita Chopra finds an open teammate during Fraser North Quad-A championship game played Feb. 18, 2024 at Simon Fraser University. (Photo by Howard Tsumura property of Varsity Letters 2024. All Rights Reserved)


Last season, as mentioned, Burnaby Central upset Riverside in the Fraser North title game.

Was that all the motivation Riverside needed to clean up loose ends, and very soon after win the B.C. title?

And if that’s the case, might the same sour, vinegar-flavoured taste that the Wildcats swallowed in defeat on Sunday give them the push they need to take it over the top a week from this coming Saturday night at the LEC?

“Obviously this affects our approach,” said Burnaby Central’s Ankita Chopra, the senior guard who poured home 28 points in the loss on Sunday.

“I think winning zones last year gave us a chip on our shoulder,” she said to try and describe the rallying point her team drew from the win heading into provincials. “But coming in here this year, we have almost nothing to lose. We are just going to go out hard, compete and see what happens.”

And if senior service counts for anything, the Wildcats are composed of about as Grade 12-centric a roster as you can fashion these days.

“We have eight seniors on this team and all five of our starters are seniors,” Ducharme said of his roster which has a level of senior experience to rival the 2022 B.C. champs from Terry Fox. “We have been here before, we know how loud it gets and how to compose ourselves. This is our third year in a row (at BC’s) and we know what to expect.”

Adds Chopra: “The core of us has played together since Grade 8 and our team chemistry has come a long way.”

For Burnaby Central, a five-year build hits its zenith come tip-off day Feb. 28 and that makes their handful of practices, with a full roster of player finally together, indeed a special time for them.

“So it’s timing,” says Ducharme. “That has been the war cry. It’s timing. Everything will come together.”

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