Seaquam's Amar Thiara (left) looks to dish in the face of defensive pressure from Argyle's Nathalie Francis during the Tsumura Basketball Classic in December of 2021. A re-birth in girls basketball at Seaquam has both its senior and junior varsity teams each sitting in the Top 10 rankings as March Madness approaches. (Photo by Howard Tsumura property of Varsity Letters 2022. All Rights Reserved)
Feature High School Girls Basketball

Seaquam revels in a girls basketball renaissance! The Seahawks of Sunshine Hills bring long-lost, late-1980’s vibe back to their North Delta neighbourhood!

NORTH DELTA — When it comes to senior varsity girls basketball, the high school from that North Delta neighbourhood known as Sunshine Hills is finding out how good it feels to find its place in the sun.

When rankings were released earlier this week, not only was the Seaquam Seahawks senior girls team ranked at No. 10 in the senior varsity Quad-A poll, it’s junior varsity team was perched at the lofty position of No. 2.

Not since the late 1980s and early 1990s has Seaquam girls basketball enjoyed such a complete presence on the provincial scene.

In fact it’s enough to say that for the first time in a generation-plus, they’re a true top-level girls high school basketball ‘program’.

Stress that last word to the man who doubles as the head coach of both teams, and it becomes immediately clear that nothing makes Lucky Toor feel more proud.

“We do double-duty at least once a week in our big gym, together,” says Toor of bringing the senior and junior teams together on the same floor for practices.

“We do tons of competitive drills and the bond that I have seen built from the Grade 8s through the Grade 12s is amazing,” continues Toor a lifelong North Delta resident, a 1997 North Delta Secondary grad and also a coach with the local club program at AthElite, co-founded by his close friend and Huskies’ high school teammate Aman Heran.

Seaquam Seahawks senior girls basketball coach Lucky Toor instructs his team during a timeout at TBI 2021. (Photo by Howard Tsumura property of Varsity Letters 2022. All Rights Reserved)

“It’s amazing to see how many leaders we have on our senior team, how those Grade 12s are acting as mentors, but also how skilled our younger players are in also being able to push our seniors in their own way,” adds Toor, whose own high school basketball career with the Huskies saw him mentored by a pair of storied coaches in both Tyler Kushnir and the legendary Bill Edwards, the latter still actively involved with that school’s B.C. AAA No. 6-ranked senior boys squad

That senior presence has helped role-model a Seaquam JV team the likes of which fellow North Delta schools have not seen in league competition since the mid-1980s, when the region featured three junior highs (Sands, Delview, Burnsview) and 8-to-12 Seaquam.

SMUS’ Charlie Anderson tries to dislodge the ball from Seaquam guard Syra Toor (2) during B.C. junior girls basketball action between the No. 1-ranked Blue Jags of Victoria and the host and No. 2-ranked Seahawks on Feb. 4, 2022 in North Delta. (Photo by Howard Tsumura property of Varsity Letters 2022. All Rights Reserved)

Case in point was Friday’s 5 p.m. junior girls contest at Seaquam, surely one of the best played around the province that day, as the No. 2 Seahawks battled Victoria’s No. 1-ranked St. Michaels University School Blue Jags in what could well have been an advance showing of the March 5 B.C. junior girls championship final at the Langley Events Centre.

No. 1 vs. No. 2 match-ups are always special and this one lived up to the rankings.

In the end, however, foul trouble and injuries caught up to the Seahawks as the Blue Jags rallied late in regulation before ultimately pulling out a 60-58 overtime victory.

The 1987-88 Fraser Valley top-tiered AA runner-ups from Seaquam Secondary. (Photo courtesy 1988 BC girls high school championship program. All Rights Reserved)

Seaquam girls basketball reached its first zenith back in the 1987-88 season when, coached by current UBC softball coach Gord Collings and powered by the likes of Grade 11 guard Lori Orstad and senior forward Annette Lutz, the Seahawks advanced to the then top-tiered AA B.C. championships as the second-place finisher in the Fraser Valley.

To give you an idea of the kind of company those late-80s Seahawks ran with, they fell that season in their zone championship final to none other than the powerhouse Centennial Centaurs who would go on to win its second of back-to-back provincial titles that season.

All of that time-stamped history is brought to your attention to highlight just how long it’s been since the blue-gold-and-white (and now sometimes black, gold and blue) have carried this kind of relevance on the provincial stage.

“In terms of building basketball culture at the school, it’s been a work in progress over the years and it takes a village,” notes Toor, who is quick to crack open the most recent history book of Seaquam girls basketball to the mid-2010’s when longtime and still-current Seahawks’ girls coach Amy Serres began to cultivate the idea of a program that could compete at a level outside of just its zone environment.

“She is the one that started to build this girls’ program and is still so actively involved, coaching the Grade 8s this year,” adds Toor of Serres who often joins both he and assistant coach Jim Sidhu on the bench of the senior varsity team. “I was just able to come along and help her. This has all been a true team effort.”

Seaquam’s Jocelyn Panganiban dribbles against the Abbotsford Panthers during the 2021 Tsumura Basketball Classic in December of 2021. (Photo by Howard Tsumura property of Varsity Letters 2022. All Rights Reserved)

And that effort has seemingly positioned Seaquam for sustained success.

This year’s senior team, which competed well at the Tsumura Basketball Invitational just before Christmas at the Langley Events Centre, features a nice balance of six seniors, six grade 11s and one grade 10.

Amar Thiara, its 5-foot-7 guard, is the heartbeat of team, a player Toor calls “our engine.”

Fellow 5-foot-8 guard Jasmine Sidhu, one of the team’s top scorers and shooters, helps spread the floor and Toor likens to her to having “a coach on the floor.”

A healthy dose of up-tempo play is provided by compact 5-foot-4 guard Baani Rajput.

And perhaps the wildcard among the team’s Class of ’22 content is 6-foot-1 post Shaunti Gill, who this season had elected to drop her two-sport persona and focus solely on volleyball, a sport where she is also a standout. Gill was not with the basketball team over its first few months of the campaign.

“Some of her club volleyball things got cancelled and so we had a good conversation over the holidays,” said Toor.

“She was a big part of of our junior team,” he added of Gill, who helped Seaquam reach the 2020 B.C. junior championships at the LEC as a Grade 10.

Seaquam’s Nyssa Sunner in action against GW Graham during the 2021 Tsumura Basketball Classic. (Photo by Howard Tsumura property of Varsity Letters 2022. All Rights Reserved)

Nyssa Sunner, a 5-foot-9 dead-eye three-point shooter who is gaining more confidence in her dribble-drive game,  is one of a number of talented Grade 11s.

And the lone Grade 10 is Sareena Binng, a 5-foot-10 forward whom the coaching staff determined was better served in her developmental track by joining the senior squad.

Toor’s JV group is nonetheless teeming with talent.

“I knew the core of junior team was very strong, and wanted to give these girls their own identity and roles,” began Toor. “For sure we would be better at senior if we rolled them all onto one team, but this season, at junior, they are all being given the chance to develop more confidence and play more significant roles with their team.”

That sacrifice is one of the cornerstones in describing a program which operates as a true program.

For Seaquam, that junior team includes forwards Neelum Sidhu (the sister of senior Jasmine Sidhu) and Sydney Roufosse, along with a guard group that features Grade 9 Priya Toor, and Grade 8s Syra Toor, Camryn Tait and Callie Brost.

Priya and Syra are the head coach’s daughters, while Tait is the youngest of the three basketball playing daughters of former Richmond Colts, New Mexico State Aggies and UBC Thunderbirds’ star point guard Brian Tait.

Seaquam Seahawks’ Neelum Sidhu (right) is guarded by SMUS’ Olivia Vincent during B.C. junior girls basketball action between the No. 1-ranked Blue Jags of Victoria and the host and No. 2-ranked Seahawks on Feb. 4, 2022 in North Delta. (Photo by Howard Tsumura property of Varsity Letters 2022. All Rights Reserved)

It didn’t take long Friday to see how talented the Seaquam juniors are from the post presence of Roufosse, to the depth of that aforementioned guard group, to the vastly-versatile, wing-span laden Neelum Sidhu.

Despite the loss, Grade 8 guards Syra Toor (19 points) and Callie Brost (16) led their team in scoring. Toor drained five triples, while Sidhu added 10 points.

For coach Toor, the program’s patient road to success has come with the full-circle graduation of the first group of players he took on as Grade 8s back in 2016-17.

“They were a brand new group of players and the excitement about the growth that was starting in this program, I feel, really began with them,” said Toor of a team which included guards Emma Tait and Sydney Roberts, and forward Taylor Kelly.

That group, however, faced the unfortunate luck of having its senior season wiped out last year by the COVID cancellation.

“They missed their senior season, but this season Taylor joined me as an assistant on this team,” said Toor, who works outside of the education system as a certified professional accountant.

“That’s coming full circle. That, to me, is why this all finally feels like a real program.”

So at Seaquam, where girls basketball has spent the major part of an entire generation out of the spotlight, perhaps this is the start of its most successful chapter in the school’s 44-year history.

And for those involved within its everyday workings, as well as those watching with perspective from afar, it’s a time truly defined by one word: Renaissance.

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