ABBOTSFORD — Study the resume of Abbotsford’s W.J. Mouat Hawks, then project it against those of the rest of B.C.’s best AAAA senior boys basketball teams and you surely can’t argue with mantra they’ve had in place since the season tipped off back in late November.
“We have repeated the phrase ‘Why not us?’ for the entire season,” Mouat head coach Rich Ralston said Monday of his senior-laden Hawks, following their semi-triumphant return from the Okanagan where they fashioned a second-place finish at the prestigious Kelowna Owls’ Western Canada Invitational, losing in the title tilt to Edmonton’s Harry Ainlay Titans.
“There is a lot of parity in the province,” Ralston continued of the chase every team mounts to win the B.C. title, “and I have asked the question of my team ‘Why would we deserve it any less than anyone else?’”
Truer words could not be spoken, especially at this juncture of the season.
W.J. Mouat opened last week by sliding out of the provincial Top 10 for the first time this season following a 105-99 loss in Fraser Valley East league play to Surrey’s unranked Lord Tweedsmuir Panthers.
The Hawks response, however, was near instantaneous.
Mouat opened its run all the way to the Western Canada’s tourney final by beating the No. 2-ranked Semiahmoo Totems 88-67 last Thursday.
“It kind of signalled the end of a slump for us,” said Ralston, stressing that the focus must continue to be refined if that statement is to hold a more longterm truth. “It reinforced to the guys that they are as good as anybody.”
Clearly, the 2017-18 Hawks are more than just a roster which happens to start five seniors.
Its current Grade 12s, paced by the likes of big man Dhivaan Bhogal, forward Harvir Garcha and point guard Sukhi Kang, all started a season ago on a Mouat team which came within a win of the Final Four at last March’s B.C. championships.
And now that starting five, which also includes wings Reis Sekhon and Prav Gill, has for its encore, led the Hawks through what is, in all likelihood, B.C.’s toughest schedule this season.
That, of course, is impossible to officially quantify, yet Mouat has played 13 games against teams which have thus far been a wire-to-wire presence in the Varsity Letters’ Big 10 B.C. AAAA rankings.
For the Hawks, that includes beating teams who at the time were both No. 1 (Burnaby South) and No. 2 Semiahmoo. They have also beaten former No. 1 Walnut Grove as well as two schools expected to contend, along with Burnaby South, for the Lower Mainland title in the Kitsilano Blue Demons and honourable mention St. George’s Saints.
Its Quad A losses?
Two apiece to Handsworth, Kelowna, and Holy Cross, the latter including an epic triple-OT marathon at the Terry Fox Legal Beagle. Mouat has also dropped games to Tamanawis, Oak Bay and Burnaby South.
HAWKS ON THE HUNT
When you play in the Fraser Valley East’s strangely-named West Division, there is rarely a forgiving turn in the compact six-game schedule, and that is very much the case this week.
Mouat (3-1) was not only set to face No. 10 Lord Tweedsmuir (2-2) in a rescheduled game on Monday, on Tuesday they wrap up league play against No. 5 Walnut Grove (4-1), with a sweep giving them first place and the right to host the East’s overall tournament.
“Another phrase that I have used with our guys is that they are battle tested,” Ralston continued. “They have played in some big games over the last two years. But the big difference is that last season, we never lost to a team that we were better than.
“We have the potential to come up with a stinker,” he continued. “So we don’t go into the playoffs for a second thinking we are going walk through anything with a guaranteed berth.”
Yet the past few season have been perhaps the most concentrated stretch of excellence in the history of the Mouat senior varsity.
Last season, the Hawks came in as a sixth seed but lost in the second round to No. 3 seed Oak Bay.
In 2016, under head coach Trevor Pridie, Mouat finished third in the Fraser Valley and entered the B.C. field as a No. 7 seed, yet beat No. 2 Sir Winston Churchill in the quarterfinals before losing in the Final Four to No. 2 seed and eventual runners-up Tamanawis.
And with just over a month remaining before the B.C.’s tip off at the Langley Events Centre, the Hawks are hoping that its senior-laden core takes its biggest steps forward in terms of the leadership they will need just to get there.
“Kenan’s leadership was paramount and it’s something we are trying to find,” Ralston says of 2017 graduate Kenan Hadzovic, the talented guard who was a huge part of the past two B.C. qualifiers and is coming off his freshman season in U Sports with the Fraser Valley Cascades.
“We have talked about our leadership this season coming by committee,” the coach continued, “but Sukhi as our leader guard is starting to step up into that role. He is starting to take this team under his wing and guide them. He hit 10 threes in one game earlier this season at the Abby tournament, but he is less worried about scoring. This past weekend in Kelowna he did a great job of getting the ball to people.”
Put it all together with the likes of senior Prab Sran and Grade 11s Gershaun Sarowa and Gavin Dulku, and the 2017-18 Hawks, in a crowded field of hopefuls, have a chance to punch their tickets to the Big Dance.
They’ve served their apprenticeship, they start five Grade 12s, they have tackled the toughest schedule in the province, and with a maximum off 33 days left in the this season, they’re coming off perhaps their biggest B.C win of the campaign.
There are far worse ways to enter the final month of the season.
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