LANGLEY — Ask Sienna Lenz for an interview, and the Abbotsford Panthers senior star politely asks for a few seconds.
After all, unstrapping the brace which she still wears to protect her formerly injured right knee is a little more involved than pulling off a pair of socks.
Which begs the inevitable question: How is the Simon Fraser-bound point guard, a player who has set a standard for grit and tenacity in the B.C. high school game, feeling over the final weekend of her high school playing career?
“I’m good, I’m feeling strong again,” Lenz said moments after she helped lead Abbotsford to a 63-55 win over Surrey’s savvy Sullivan Heights Stars.
That much seemed obvious after Lenz’s near triple-double performance in which she scored 21 points, grabbed 15 rebounds and dished seven assists.
Soft-spoken and understated off the court, Lenz is letting her play roar over a senior season which has so often tested her perseverance.
Lenz suffered an ACL injury in December of 2016, early in her Grade 11 year with the Panthers, and yet despite the injury, played all the way through to last season’s loss to Surrey’s Lord Tweedsmuir Panthers in the 2017 B.C. Triple A title game.
Subsequent surgery and its lengthy rehab process didn’t allow her to hit the ground running in the fall when the new season tipped off.
And so she followed a plan of managed minutes put in by Prentice Lenz, her head coach and dad, which was supposed to allow her to hit full stride at the start of January.
Watching Lenz team with younger sister Marin, who scored 23 points Thursday, there was no question that the run-up had now progressed to a successful take-off.
“There were some frustrating points for me in coming back,” admitted Lenz. “You’re not playing much at first, so it feels choppy when you get out there. And then it takes you a while to start to get your rhythm back.”
The Panthers never got into a three-point shooting rhythm on Thursday, yet the 5-foot-8 Lenz made things happen with her determined drives to the rim.
Now, with wins over North Peace and Sullivan Heights behind them, it’s time to prepare for Friday’s Final Four against either of a pair of Fraser Valley foes in Walnut Grove and Abbotsford.
Last season, with an injured Sienna gutting it out, the Panthers topped Argyle in the quarterfinal, dispatched reigning champion Brookswood in the semifinals and then had Tweedsmuir on the ropes before surrendering a lead late en route to a silver-medal finish.
This season, the Valley has been as tough as ever with six of the eight teams coming from the province’s largest zone.
Yet with Sienna finally at full health and finding her rhythm by averaging 28 points, 12 rebounds and five assists per game, the Panthers beat arch-nemesis Walnut Grove in the Fraser Valley final.
“That stretch in the Fraser Valley is one tough stretch,” admitted Prentice Lenz of the extended zone championships which carry into the provincials.
“But it does give you an enlightened look at how you need to perform and what you need to do, day-in and day-out because it could all just end if you don’t perform.”
The Panthers are, to a large extent, a seasoned version of the same team which made it to the tier’s final game of the season.
Yet no journey is ever the same.
The Panthers moved forward Beryl Kithinji into the starting role of energy forward handled so well last season by then-senior Gaby MacGregor.
And they have gradually taken the wraps off Sienna Lenz.
“I hadn’t looked at last year versus this year because there are new dynamics,” the head coach said. “But I am happy with the way we have transitioned and the way we came out of December with Sienna’s limited minutes.
“So to put ourselves in a position to play in a semifinal is fantastic.”
Sienna Lenz feels it coming together.
“Our main group is older, we’ve played more together and we’ve all improved as individual players,” she says. “All of that has helped us out, it’s helped this whole team out as a group.”
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