LANGLEY — Welcome to Day 1 here at the 2023 B.C. girls high school basketball championships at the Langley Events Centre.
Please check back here with regularity for updated reports from this tier of play.
STORIES BY GARY KINGSTON (Special for Varsity Letters)
TOP HALF DRAW
No. 1 WALNUT GROVE GATORS 97 No. 16 MOUNT BAKER WILD 28
LANGLEY – It’s not totally fair to call the Walnut Grove senior girls basketball team a one woman show.
Tia Rowell is a sharp-shooter from outside. Abby Adams is a tough post presence inside. And others in the rotation are clearly well-schooled in ball movement, rebound positioning and the intricacies of a defensive game plan.
But the unparalleled domination of Grade 12 guard/forward Kiera Pemberton makes you think. Could she play with four scrubs off the street and still lead her team into the championship game of the B.C. Quad A finals?
Pemberton scored the Gators’ first 10 points and 30 in the first half as No. 1 seed Walnut Grove raced to a 45-9 lead over the outclassed Mt. Baker Wild of Cranbrook en route to a 97-28 win. She did it with a dizzying array of spinning lay-ins off fast break drives, brilliant step throughs and powerful baseline drives.
The six-footer created many of her own chances off quick hands on defence, timely blocks and dogged determination on the boards. There were no rebound, steal or block numbers kept, but Pemberton appeared to have at least five steals and three blocks in the first quarter alone.
“She just does so much,” Gators’ head coach Darren Rowell said of Pemberton, who finished with 44 points. “Obviously, the scoring is what everybody focuses on. But she does so many intangible things – such a great teammate and she just has lots of fun and joy out there.”
Guard Tia Rowell added 19 points, including 12 off three-pointers, and Grade 11 guard Kyanna Knodel chippined in with 17.
“It was nice to have everybody involved,” said Rowell, whose squad improved to 29-4 on the season. “A lot of them played their best ball of the season. A few of them really came on in the second half and made some good contributions.”
There was no post-game record of rebounds, steals, assists or shooting percentage, but Pemberton, who did struggle to connect on outside shots, may well have had a triple double given her work on the boards and her ability to force turnovers.
“I just try to do whatever I can for the team,” said Pemberton, who sat for the final three minutes of the first half and eight of the 20 second half minutes.
Pemberton set the four-game Quad A tournament scoring record last year with 167 as Walnut Grove finished third. Could she go even higher this year? Is she thinking about it?
“A little bit,” she admitted with a big smile. “I want to see if I can break it again. We’ll see how it goes.”
Jasmine Bailey led the No. 16 seed Mt. Baker with nine points.
NO. 9 CLAREMONT SPARTANS 67 NO. 8 SIR WINSTON CHURCHILL BULLDOGS 60
LANGLEY – Height challenged at 5-foot-5, Adia Pye plays the game of basketball with the ferocity of a rugby player.
Rebounding against girls six and seven inches taller? No problem for the provincial level rugby player. Loose balls? A no-hesitation invitation to crash to the floor, elbows and shoulders flailing like she’s in the middle of a ruck.
Pye was at her dynamic best Wednesday as the feisty point scored 21 of her game high 27 points in the second half to lead No. 9-seeded Claremont Spartans to a 67-60 win over No. 8 Sir Winston Churchill Bulldogs in the opening round of the Quad A provincials.
She was particularly key in a 17-0 Spartans run in the third quarter to erase a 45-37 Bulldogs’ lead. She simply would not be denied in driving through a crowded paint to tally 11 points in the run.
Then after Churchill had closed to within three with four minutes to go in the fourth quarter, Pye made a critical play that has become her signature. After a shot clanged off the iron, Pye slapped the ball away from the Bulldogs’ rebounder, dove into the paint to wrestle away the loose ball, then, from the floor, passed to a wide open Kate McNichol for an easy lay-in.
“If there’s a loose ball, I’m diving for it,” said Pye. “Basketball’s not like rugby with the full-on contact, but I do like the physical aspect of it.”
While Pye had a great game, she was supported by a Spartans defence that played with clamp down intensity in the second half. Claremont also got some dead-eye shooting from Grade 10 guard Carys Clarke, who had 17 points, most of them on three-pointers.
“Adia is fantastic, but she can’t do it all herself,” said Claremont head coach Darren Reisig. “She’s skilled and she’s physical and that’s a good combination for girls basketball. She’s a tough one to deal with.”
Another Grade 10, six-foot Iva Kalabric was a strong presence in the post and Clarke, just an inch taller than Pye, but built just as sturdy, hit a three-pointer following McNichol’s score to put Claremont up 63-55 and all but clinch the win.
“Her shooting is so clutch for us,” Pye said of Clarke’s work from behind the arc. “Over the year, she’s developed so much. She’s a big asset for us.”
Claremont won its opening game at last year’s provincials, then ran into No. 1-seeded Riverside in the quarterfinals, losing 92-32 to the eventual champions. Now, they’ll get the No. 1 seed Walnut Grove Gators and the uber-talented Keira Pemberton in this year’s quarters.
“Do we have to talk about that,” a laughing Pye said of the loss to Riverside. “Walnut Grove and Keira Pemberton! Obviously we have to key in on her. She’s so talented. We can’t focus on the ranking or anything, just play our game and see what we can do.”
NO. 4 YALE LIONS 75 NO. 13 CHARLES BEST BLUE DEVILS 49
LANGLEY – Just like the late winter weather, the Yale senior girls basketball team has come in to March like the Lions they are. But with apologies to the old proverb, they hope not to go out of the provincial Quad A championships like lambs as they did in 2022.
The No. 4 seed Lions from Abbotsford got 27 points from leading scorer Maggy Curtis in a solid 75-49 win Wednesday over Coquitlam’s Charles Best Blue Devils in an opening round matchup at Langley Events Centre.
Leading 37-25 after an uneven first half, Yale used a 16-5 run over the late third quarter, early fourth to pull away
“They gave us everything in that first quarter (14-14 tie). We took a couple of punches,” said Yale head coach Bobby Braich. “I think we responded. Senior leadership, I’ve got eight Grade 12s on my roster, they had to dig down deep.
“This time last year, we might have maybe let that game slip away, but we clawed back. I think our press was very effective.”
Curtis hit three of her five treys in the decisive third quarter as she had a hot shooting game. Jay Hildebrand added 14 points and five-foot-seven forward Samara Mason played bigger than her size, crashing the boards hard for double digit rebounds.
Yale won its opener last season, then didn’t look good in falling 75-53 to Okanagan Mission in the quarterfinals.
Braich figures “senior mentality” will make a difference this time around against the winner of the Seaquam-Reynolds matchup later Wednesday.
“There’s no more tomorrow for eight of them. I think we’re an improved team with our systems. We have more buy-in just in what we’re about, our team identity. Our horses will show up and play the game they need to play.”
Curtis, too, believes there is a greater sense of purpose with this year’s experienced group, a mindset that should pay off as the Lions attempt to get to the Final Four.
“If we just keep each other up, everybody will keep their energy up and we’ll be OK,” said Curtis.
“For us, we depend a lot on our defence. Offensively, we need to start moving the ball a lot better, looking to get inside and then dishing out. And not just one pass and a shot.”
Jessica Parkinson led the Blue Devils on Wednesday with 13 points, while Josephina Rodriguez-Suarez chipped in with 10.
NO. 5 SEAQUAM SEAHAWKS 85 NO. 12 REYNOLDS ROADRUNNERS 47
LANGLEY – Just call them The Young and the Restless. Oh yeah, you can add fearless as well.
The Seaquam Seahawks senior girls basketball team, with three Grade 9s and three Grade 10s playing significant minutes, defeated Reynolds Roadrunners 85-47 in an opening round game at the Quad A provincials on Thursday.
“Great start,” said Seaquam head coach Lucky Toor after his No. 5-seeded squad from North Delta came out of the chute firing on all cylinders in racing out to a 33-11 first quarter lead.
“Everyone’s got nerves and a lot of pent-up excitement coming into Game 1. And we just had to channel that energy in the right way for quarter one. That was our focus and I felt like we did that.”
Seaquam won the junior girls championship last season – the school’s first ever title – when Grade 8 guard Syra Toor, the coach’s daughter, was the MVP. Lucky Toor had no hesitation in moving most of that title-winning group up to the senior level this season. And they haven’t looked out of place, coming into Langley Events Centre with a 22-5 record and off a 104-65 pasting of the South Delta Sun Devils in the South Fraser final.
Many observers are calling the Seahawks, who like to play at breakneck speed, a Team of the Future, surefire B.C. title winners in 2024 and 2025 if they stay healthy and together. But there seems to be a feeling among the very confident group that they don’t need to wait that long. There is a sense of why not us? Why not now?
“It’s funny you should say that,” said Toor. “We’ve been using that slogan the last couple of weeks in practice. Why not us, why not now.
“And keep in mind, I do have a couple of graduating players on my team. We might be a team of the future, but for those players, the moment is now. This is their last chance at the provincials, so we’re all playing for them.”
One of those Grade 12s is sharp-shooting Nyssa Sunner, a five-foot-nine guard who led the Seahawks with 22 points against the Roadrunners.
“Most of (the youngsters), they’ve won a championship, they know how to play and they have that winning mindset already,” said Sunner. “It’s not like we don’t know what we’re playing against. I think we’re ready.”
“We’ve played club (basketball) together and our chemistry is really good.”
Grade 9 forward Camryn Tait scored 17 points for the Seahawks, Grade 10 centre Sydney Roufosse had 12 and Syra Toor, whose Grade 10 sister, Priya, was lost at the start of the season with an ACL tear, chipped in with 11.
Saige Parfitt, a six-foot Grade 10 forward led the Roadrunners with 17 points.
The Seahawks will face No. 4 seed Yale Lions in a quarterfinal on Thursday night (8:45 p.m. start) and Sunner believes the team is capable of snatching a B.C. title this week with a group that might be coming of age sooner than expected.
“100 per cent. I think so.”
BOTTOM HALF DRAW
NO. 6 KELOWNA OWLS 72 NO. 12 SOUTH DELTA SUN DEVILS 42
LANGLEY – Anyone give a hoot about the Kelowna Owls?
The senior girls basketball team from K-Town, as it says on their bright yellow jerseys, come into the Quad A provincials as the somewhat unheralded No. 6 seed. They went 20-7 in the regular season, but without a signature win over one of the top teams in Quad A, although they did come back from 21 points down to beat Okanagan Mission in the Thompson-Okanagan final.
They don’t feature a superstar player and don’t generally make anyone go “Wow.” They just win when they should with tenacious defence and a balanced scoring attack that will feature any one of five or six players on a given night.
That was the recipe for success on Wednesday when they dispatched the No. 12 seed South Delta Sun Devils 72-47 in the opening round in a game that can only be characterized as routine and expected.
Grade 12 guard Avery King led the way against the Sun Devils with 21 points, including three quick threes to open the fourth quarter. Grade 10 guard Mav Chahal contributed 19 and forward Ryenn Schutz chipped in with 16.
“We came in and showed we had the intensity that we wanted,” said King of a 24-9 advantage after one quarter. “We have four girls who have played together our whole lives so we have really good chemistry.
“Every single person on the team has a part that they play and we can build off that.”
Kelowna lost its tournament opener a year ago and then won three straight to finish ninth. Getting the win Wednesday was a positive start to what they hope will be a longer run this time around.
But barring a major upset, they’re likely to get the 2022 runner-up and No. 2 seed Riverside Rapids in the quarterfinals on Thursday.
“We’re going to have to play really well against some of the top teams to beat them, but I think on our best day we have a chance,” said head coach Peter Gurarsci. “It’s up to us to make sure we play to our potential.
“That win over Okanagan Mission was a big confidence booster for us. But to be honest with you, we have to prove that we can beat some of these teams down here in the Lower Mainland.”
Should they pull that off, it just might be time to give a hoot about these Owls.
South Delta was led by Grade 11 guard Kaija Rutledge with 17 points.
NO. 3 RIVERSIDE RAPIDS 85 NO. 14 R.E. MOUNTAIN EAGLES 56
LANGLEY – First it was the Sedin twins of Vancouver Canucks’ fame. Then it was Super Bowl winning quarterback Patrick Mahomes of the Kansas City Chiefs.
Riverside Rapids senior girls head coach Paul Langford was reaching for the best hockey and football comparisons he could Wednesday to describe the chemistry between star guards Avery Sussex, she of the passing wizardry, and Jorja Hart.
Hart had 28 points and Sussex added 23 as the Quad A No. 3 seed Rapids from Port Coquitlam defeated No. 14 R.E. Mountain Eagles of Langley 85-56 in an opening round game at the Langley Events Centre.
Sussex, the dazzling Grade 11 floor leader, hit a streaking Hart on the fast break several times, including one overhand throw of about 60 feet in the fourth quarter for an easy lay-in. Although full stats weren’t kept she had to be in double digits in both assists and steals.
“Good for Jorja to run the floor like that and for (Sussex) to find her,” said Langford. “We call it Sedinery. They’re not sisters, but sometimes you just wonder how they know where each other are.”
And of Sussex’s ability to make the tough passes, be it with a quick flick, a two-handed push or the long quarterback-like throw, Langford said: “She’s our Mahomes.”
“I’m really fortunate to have someone like Jorja,” said Sussex. “She’s just so fast. If she’s running the floor, I’ll get it to her somehow.”
Riverside led 32-10 after one quarter and 51-21 at the half. With most of the Rapids’ starters on the bench to start the second half, the Eagles went on a quick 10-0 run to make things interesting, but Sussex and Hart returned and went on a strong run of their own to put the game out of reach.
Langford said the mini run by the Eagles sent a good message to his squad.
“It’s the provincials. You can’t relax. Lots of lessons to be learned from a win.”
The Rapids lost last season’s Quad A final 77-75 to Terry Fox, but lost only two players to graduation and went 23-2 before arriving at the Langley Events Centre. But the second of those two losses was by 12 points to No. 2 seed Burnaby Central two weeks ago in their Zone final.
“Very, very sad moment,” said Sussex. “They had an amazing game and we shoveled the (crap). But yeah, it fired us up. We’re ready to play them again. Hopefully we’ll see them in the semis.”
NO. 7 OKANAGAN MISSION HUSKIES 88 NO. 10 HERITAGE WOODS KODIAKS 47
LANGLEY – From blow for blow to big time blowout.
Okanagan Mission Huskies found themselves matching shots with the underdog Heritage Woods Kodiaks over the first 12 minutes of their Quad A senior girls basketball opening round game Wednesday at the Langley Events Centre.
But trailing 26-21 to the No. 10 seed Kodiaks, the No. 7 Huskies suddenly dug in defensively and cruised to an overwhelming 88-47 win. They closed the first half on an 18-2 run, then outscored the Kodiaks 22-4 in the third quarter to easily advance to today’s quarterfinals.
Until a late, garbage-time spurt of seven points, the Kodiaks were actually outscored 55-11 through a large stretch of the game.
“They really brought it tonight in terms of their intensity,” Huskies head coach Meghan Faust said of her squad’s clamp down defence. “Especially Presley (Hopf), who got injured there at the end, she was just ferocious.
“(Defensive effort) was something we’ve really strived to do,” Faust added of the Huskies, who came into the tournament with a 24-8 record.
While Okanagan Mission was working like dogs to deny the Kodiaks clean looks, the Huskies were also outstanding in transition, running the floor at a pace with which Heritage Woods just couldn’t contend.
“We love to run, we love to push the ball,” said Faust. “We have the numbers and we have such a deep bench that I can run anybody in there at any time. Everybody can handle the ball. It’s such an asset to the team.”
Six-foot Grade 12 guard/forward Kanani Coon was a big part of that transition game, putting up a game-high 28 points by constantly finding open lanes to the basket.
“At the beginning of the year we talked about our team identity and our biggest thing was family and transition,” said Coon. “I mean, we know we’re a quick team, we know we’re fast so we use those strengths to our advantage.”
Hopf added 21 points for the winners, who are likely to face No. 2 seed Burnaby Central on Thursday, a team they have yet to face this season.
“I think we can go as far as we want,” said Coon of the Huskies’ prospects. “We’ve had our ups and downs, for sure. I feel we’re pretty unpredictable. We’re seen as the underdogs right now, but we want to go in and make some pretty big upsets.”
NO. 2 BURNABY CENTRAL WILDCATS 92 NO. 15 PRINCE GEORGE POLARS 30
LANGLEY – It was bound to be a herculean task for the Prince George Polars to stay with the Burnaby Central Wildcats in their opening round game Wednesday of the Quad B.C. senior girls provincials.
But digging a 35-0 hole in the first quarter surely wasn’t part of the game plan.
The No. 15 seed Polars, just 10-14 on the season but in the tournament thanks to a one-point win over the North Peace Grizzlies of Fort St. John in the North Central final, didn’t get on the scoreboard until 57 seconds were left in the opening quarter.
They did find some success against the Burnaby Central second stringers, but the Wildcats were just too good in transition with their lightning quick ability to run the floor and to get into the paint.
The Wildcats aren’t big – no member of the regular rotation is taller than five-foot-10 – but they don’t need to have a lot of size with their collection of smaller guards attacking the basket with fierce determination. The group, led by five-foot-three UBC-bound Jade Huynh, is pretty good, too, at hitting from distance.
The stats crew vacated the court with the same speed as the Wildcats showed, so we can’t give you the top scorers, but Burnaby Central guard Ankita Chopra was tremendous in the first quarter with 16 points.
“We kind of looked at this game as a scrimmage,” said Wildcats head coach Chris Ducharme. “We had a game plan, so I was holding them accountable, not to the game itself, to the game plan. Just things that we need to know we’re detailed with and we need to execute.”
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