ABBOTSFORD — The 35-0 record along with the B.C. junior girls title they carried off centre court last March at the Langley Events Centre represented a perfect first step into the world high school basketball for Port Coquitlam’s Terry Fox Ravens.
Step two — a move up to the senior varsity ranks a year ahead of schedule as a team of near-exclusive Grade 10 talent — might not unfold with the same kind of wire-to-wire success, yet all of that is okay with Ravens’ coach Mike Carkner.
“This season, we will be in really tough and we’ve got a lot of learning to do, and I’m excited for that,” said Carkner, the former SFU player who coaches the preseason No. 6-ranked Quad-A Ravens with Teena Frost, herself a former Clan player “I’m not sure the kids know what’s ahead for them, but we’ve put together a really tough schedule and it’s going to be great for our development. That said, there will be ups and downs, and we’re going to take our share of lumps.”
Terry Fox opened its season Monday afternoon, getting five triples from Hannah Rao en route to an 88-35 win over Surrey’s Earl Marriott Mariners in the opening round of The Big Ticket Invitational at Abbotsford Secondary.
Yet with the competition getting stiffer throughout this week, and with the Tsumura Basketball Invitational, Centennial Top 10 Shoot-Out and Semiahmoo Totems Classic set to follow, all with the promise of older, stronger and more experienced foes to contend with, those so called “lumps” which Carkner references may not be a bad thing.
After all, when was the last time this group actually took their share of lumps in a season?
“They really haven’t yet,” admits Carkner “That is why this year will be interesting to see. I’m not sure how we’ll do. It could be a whole new learning experience. I think we’ll get an idea pretty quickly.”
Certainly the team’s core group continued to push itself over the summer.
Point guard Cerys Merton, fellow guard Alisha Weloy, swing forward Lauren Clements and forward Ana-Maria Misic are all back from their time with the B.C. Under-15 provincial team.
Forward Emily Sussex, the team’s strongest inside force, and three-point shooting guard/forward Kianna Frost, both six-footers, along with Rao, are also big parts of the main rotation.
Last season, as the top seeds at the provincial JV tourney, Terry Fox dominated No. 2-seed Kelowna 76-36 in the title game.
Merton was exceptional, scoring a game-high 17 points en route to being named MVP.
“She is our engine,” Carkner said of Merton.”She’s just a gritty kid who comes to practice every day and gives 125 per cent. She leads us, and everyone feeds off her.”
The step from JV to senior won’t come without Ravens’ players embracing the fact that change is coming, and that they need to stay in front of the curve, continuing to add elements to their respective games.
One of those players is talented guard-forward Lauren Clements, who will look to become more of a dual threat by broadening her perimetre portfolio.
“Lauren is evolving as a player,” said Carkner. “We’re not a big team and we still need her toughness inside, but with her provincial team experience, I think this year she will continue to learn how to play more on the perimetre. She is already one of those players who can do it at both ends of the floor.”
Of course conversation is rife when it comes to comparisons between the Ravens and the defending top-tiered B.C. champion Semiahmoo Totems, a team basically one year older, which made the jump to seniors as ninth graders then won it all last season as Grade 10’s.
“I think they look at (Semiahmoo) and they are maybe still a little bit in awe of them,” Carkner says of his Ravens. “(Semiahmoo) are such impressive basketball players and athletes. I don’t know that we have the same level of basketball DNA as that group
“But,” he adds, “what (Semiahmoo) did last year inspires them, too. They’re not that much older than us. I think for them it’s nice to see that a young group has done so well. It makes us all feel very positive moving forward.”
Even though this might be a season where on some nights, thing won’t go like clockwork against, say, a Quad-A provincially-ranked team filled with Grade 12s.
No. 1 Semiahmoo, No. 2 Kelowna, No. 3 Brookswood, No. 4 Yale and No. 5 Walnut Grove all sit ahead of the Ravens in the first preseason poll of B.C. Quad-A girls basketball season.
And so Carkner agrees that last season’s 35-0 first step into the junior ranks was the best possible prelude to a debut in 2019-20 at the senior level.
“It’s perfect,” he said. “I look at this as a development year, a growth year. We couldn’t have gone back and played junior after last year, and we’ve shown that we are a pretty good group. So now, to get the test from the best teams in the province will be good for us.”
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