G.W. Graham's Jude Hall (centre) experiences the hands-on defence of MEI's Jayden Cousins (left) during East Valley 3A zone final last month at the LEC. Also on the scene for MEI is Patrick Warrell. (Photo by Howard Tsumura property of VarsityLetters.ca 2020. All Rights Reserved)
Feature High School Boys Basketball

G.W. Graham ready to bear down! After four Final Fours and four Elite 8’s, Chilliwack’s Grizz set sights on four wins and a B.C. AAA title

LANGLEY — A dozen games does not a season make, yet in the case of Chilliwack’s G.W. Graham Grizzlies (23-9), everything about its most recent 12 games of this season seem a portent to their week ahead as one of the favourites at the B.C. senior boys Triple A basketball championships.

The Grizzlies have been one of the most consistent programs in the province over the past decade under head coach Jake Mouritzen, and when the 2020 edition punched its tickets to March Madness, it marked the eighth time in 11 years that G.W. Graham has gone dancing.

“We’ve made four semifinals and another four quarterfinals, but the goal this year is four wins at the LEC,” Mouritzen said of what would equal the program’s first B.C. championship. “Our team is focused on the journey as a Grizzly family, however, rather than any one specific result.”

In a span which began Jan. 11 with a 108-88 loss to Prince George’s No. 1-ranked Duchess Park Condors in the championship final of the St. Thomas More Chancellor Invitational, the Grizzlies closed the pre-B.C. tourney portion of its 2019-20 season with a 10-2 record.

The only other loss was a crazy 135-128 triple overtime loss to Burnaby’s Byrne Creek Bulldogs the semifinals of the Robert Bateman Timberwolves Classic on Jan. 31.

Other than that, it’s been a stretch of games, culminating with an 84-68 win over Abbotsford’s MEI Eagles in the inaugural East Valley Triple-A zone final, which have catapulted the Grizz into the provincials as the No. 3 seed.

It is with an extended sample size of results heading into the provincial tournament over the years that Mouritzen has been able to pinpoint some key moments his team has needed to chase this season.

And one of those was finishing its zone tournament with a head of steam heading into that valuable chunk of time every coach covets for improvement ahead of the first tip at provincials.

“Last year, we went into the (now-defunct) Fraser Valley championships as the No. 1 seed and we were upset by Pitt Meadows,” says Mouritzen.

“I don’t think we were ready for that game,” added Mourtizen, “and once that happened, we never got back on track.”

The lesson?

Despite having already qualified for those 2019 provincials, a lack of focus in the zone title game had a carryover effect that extended into the provincials and led to a late collapse from an eight-point lead to a 72-64 quarterfinal loss to Duchess Park.

“The goal today was to take care of business,” said Mouritzen following his team’s 84-68 win nine days ago in the inaugural East Valley AAA zone final against Abbotsford’s MEI Eagles.

“We knew we already had a ticket to the Big Dance, but the goal today was to execute,” he added. “(MEI head coach) Mike Lee does a good job, and his team is so athletic, we knew we had to play well,” said Mouritzen who got 22 points from big man Zachary Klim, and 16 apiece from Jude Hall and point guard Cairo Almarez.

“Now we get 10 days to get ready to go and we’re going to work on enjoying the process. We’ve obviously got goals, but for the next 10 days it’s going to be about enjoying each day and see if we can get there in the end.”

The Grizz enter that 10th day on Tuesday.

On the 11th, they will be on the LEC’s Centre Court for a 4:30 p.m. Wednesday tip against a dangerous 28-4 Ladysmith 49ers team, ranked in the top 10 much of the season, but coming in with a No. 14 seed after finishing third to SMUS and John Barsby in a tough Vancouver Island championship tournament.

In the end, the team is taking it all back to that stretch of 12 games which preceded provincials.

“Our loss to Duchess and the crazy game against Byrne Creek are two moments this season that our guys are feeding off of as we prepare for the tournament,” added Mouritzen.

No. 1 Duchess Park and No. 4 Sir Charles Tupper of Vancouver are the top two seeds on the top half of the draw.

No. 2 Vernon, which returns virtually in tact this season and lost a heartbreaker to North Delta in the 2019 title game, along with the Grizzlies, are the top two teams on the bottom side of the draw.

Friday semifinals will take place at the LEC’s Arena Bowl at 3:30 and 5:15 p.m., with Saturday’s title game tipping off a 6 p.m.

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