COQUITLAM — Semiahmoo’s Tara Wallack and Izzy Forsyth are setting enough of a standard these days as a high school front-court pair beyond compare that at least one rival coach found himself thinking back to the turn of the century for an apt comparison.
“I coached against Kim Smith, Katja Fuess and Julia Wilson, and so that is kind of what they remind me of having to go against,” Riverside Rapids veteran head coach Paul Langford said Saturday night, referencing the three pivotal bigs who played various roles in leading Mission’s Heritage Park Highlanders to three straight top-tiered B.C. senior girls titles from 2000-02. “They had that type of size.”
You’d have a hard time finding someone willing to bet against the Totems pulling exactly the same feat, as the Grade 11-powered defending champs got a combined 53 points from Wallack and Forsyth en route to a decisive 98-69 win over PoCo’s Rapids in the championship final of Centennial Secondary’s annual Top 10 Shoot-Out tournament.
With on-court personas which more closely resemble that of Smith, the national team do-it-all whose skill-set centred around a perfect combination of guard and forward play, Wallack and Forsyth brought early focus and immediately set a physical tone in the painted areas with their shared competitive streaks and especially with their next-level strength.
“We really focus on rebounding and pushing the ball in transition,” said Wallack, later chosen the Top 10’s tournament MVP. “Izzy and I both have size and we can both post up, so when we’re able to push the ball in transition, we can score in the post or we can go for a lay-up.”
Not only did the pair own the glass at both ends of the floor, igniting and often taking turns with showtime finishes, they stretched the floor themselves in the halfcourt with their jump-shooting ability, and altered drives and jump shots on the defensive end with their aggression and length.
“The importance of those two, is that they have complete games,” said Totems’ head coach Allison McNeill, whose team took all the spoils at Top 10 for the second straight year. “They can play inside and out, and they can both put it on the floor, and that is a tough match-up for anyone. We play off of them, so once they get established, people start to collapse on them and we get open shots.”
It’s the simplest way to draw a schematic of the Totems’ absolute dominance over B.C. competition, which currently sits at a full season-and-a-half into a run which will likely stretch at least three seasons.
In Saturday’s final, it was apparent how much more effective the likes of 5-foot-11 Grade 11 Emily Wubs and 6-foot Grade 10 Madelyn McKinnon have become within the scheme.
And of course, “(Point guard) Deja and Nicole (Pajic) and Raushan (Bindra) are so good at finding them,” adds McNeill.
Lee was her usual catalytic self, drawing, dishing and just generally bringing out the best in her teammates as Semiahmoo built a 29-13 first-quarter lead, then a 55-32 lead at the break.
In fact Lee was at her infectious best when she scooped up the ball and heaved it 60-plus feet for a Hail, Mary swish that beat the first-quarter buzzer.
“We were kind of tired because we had to play two games today and both Abby and Riverside didn’t,” McNeill said of Semiahmoo’s two Saturday foes. “I thought we missed a lot of shots tonight, but that’s OK, because we battled through it and we didn’t hang our heads.”
Clearly, the loss the team suffered to St. Albert (Alta.) during a tournament in Calgary earlier this month has lit a fire.
“At first we were all pretty mad, but it fired us up to practice harder,” said Wallack. “It’s fired us up to be better.”
McNeill remembers those early 2000s Heritage Park teams, especially since her husband Mike, who helps coach the Semiahmoo team, was a teacher at the Mission-based school during that run.
“I would have to go into the annals of B.C. girls high school basketball to check,” McNeill said if she thought the Highlanders’ three-peat teams had the closest thing to the current-day Totems’ Forsyth-Wallack duo.
“I do remember that Katja and Julia both played in the post, and that Kim Smith (whom she later coached on the Canadian senior women’s national team at the London Olympics) could do everything,” McNeill began before turning her attention to Wallack and Forsyth, the latter named to the tournament’s first all-star team along with Abbotsford’s Marin Lenz, Cerys Merton of Terry Fox, Langley Christian’s Makenna Gardner and Sammy Shields of Riverside.
“All I can say is that Tara and Izzy are both so unselfish, they both want to win, and they both play defence,” the coach continued. “That is what’s really exciting. I don’t know if I have seen two big (B.C.) kids who can handle the ball, run, and do what they do.”
Bindra added 16 points in the win, while Lee had 14.
Shields led Riverside with 19 points, Brooke Kendal added 15 and Venica Davignon 14.
Originally scheduled as a 12-team tournament but reduced to nine after three teams pulled out due to concerns over weather, a revamped tournament draw was put into place.
Abbotsford placed second, Riverside third, Langley Christian fourth, Terry Fox fifth, Lord Tweedsmuir sixth, Brookswood seventh, Valleyview eighth and Claremont ninth.
Six players were selected to the second all-star team: Deja Lee (Semiahmoo), Indigo Learie (Valleyview), India Akins (Lord Tweedsmuir), Mackenzie Cox (Brookswood), Reece Manns (Claremont), Lakresha Edwards (Abbotsford).
Lord Tweedsmuir 61 Valleyview 60
Terry Fox 106 Brookswood 83
Semiahmoo 96 Abbotsford 66
Valleyview 74 Claremont 70
Langley Christian 68 Terry Fox 46
Semiahmoo 98 Riverside 69
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