CHILLIWACK — There has been no shortage of inspiring play this season from the senior girls basketball team at Abbotsford’s Yale Secondary.
Yet more times than not for the hard-working Lions, there has been a distinct lack of championship finishes as they have traversed the fields of the province’s very best invitational tournaments in 2023-24.
All of that changed in dramatic fashion this past weekend, however, as Yale rose to the challenge and seized all of the spoils at the G.W. Graham Top 10 tournament staged Thursday through Saturday in icy Chilliwack.
“It touched on every basketball cliche around, all-around confidence, team morale, belief in what you are doing and all the hard work,” said Lions’ head coach Bobby Braich of the immediate takeaways following his team’s tightly-contested 54-48 win over Victoria’s St. Michaels University School Blue Jags in the championship final Saturday.
Led by the MVP performance of 5-foot-9 senior forward Ava Heppner, the Lions not only went 4-0, they beat three teams which have, at one stage this season, held the No. 1 ranking within their respective tier. Yale came into the tournament ranked Quad-A No. 6.
After opening with a first-round win over Coquitlam’s Dr. Charles Best Blue Devils, Yale survived a tough second day on Friday.
The Lions opened with a morning date against then-Triple-A No. 1 Brookswood Bobcats of Langley, doing their best to hold ‘Cats Grade 9 sensation Jordyn Nohr to 23 points en route to a 74-62 win as Hannah Singh scored a game-high 19 points for the winners.
Then, in the semifinals later that same day, Heppner poured home 20 points to lead the Lions to a surprising 82-59 win over then-No. 1 Seaquam Seahawks of North Delta.
“Honestly, we were just honestly expecting that we could stay close with Seaquam and not get run out of the building,” said Braich of the Seahawks, who were so dynamic in defeating defending B.C. champ Riverside in the TBI final back on Dec. 16.
Ella Bohn scored 17 in the win while Maeva Carnahan added 13 more.
“I thought it might be a bad match-up for us because we really don’t have a true big,” continued Braich. “But my girls played a lights-out defensive scheme and we hit our shots.”
The victory set up a title tilt against SMUS on Saturday.
In a game in which neither team led by more than four points until a late surge by Yale, it was a key, late trey by Bohn, who once again finished with 17 points, which provided the requisite breathing room required to secure the victory.
Heppner added 12, Carnahan 11 and Ella Dueck nine more in the win.
“It was full value to our team for the win because SMUS is very solid, and the caveat is they are still missing their key player,” Braich said of injured Grade 11 point guard Avery Geddes. “They have some very nice players who filled in and I think they are a legit Triple-A No. 1. When (Geddes) comes back they will be hard to beat.”
Yale lost to SMUS 58-51 back on Dec. 15 at the TBI.
Taken on the whole, coming away winners at G.W. Graham’s Top 10 is something the Lions’ head coach says was much-needed balm in the midst of a draining season.
“There is no way to put moments like these into words… to describe what it feels like,” began Braich. “You have to see it. It’s (like) the joy of a mother giving birth, I think. It’s so genuine. And as a coach there is nothing more rewarding.”
Yale, which lost a single-game exhibition to Argyle of North Vancouver on Monday night, nonetheless moved from No. 6 to No. 3 in the latest B.C. Quad-A rankings. SMUS moved to No. 1 in their latest Triple-A Top 10 while Brookswood dipped to No. 2.
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