LANGLEY — If it was a bit of an unfamiliar place for the Walnut Grove Gators to be on a mid-December Saturday, it’s understandable.
For the past two years, the Gators have walked off the court here at the Langley Events Centre as champions of the Tsumura Basketball Invitational senior girls tournament, first behind the MVP play of first Jessica Wisotzki (2017) and then Tavia Rowell (2018).
Yet watch the way the youthful, senior-less Gators put together a decisive 93-62 win over Richmond’s R.A. McMath Wildcats in the fifth-sixth place game, and you get a feeling it won’t be long before they are right back in the spotlight contest.
The Gators, who graduated Rowell (Grand Canyon State), Wisotzki (Simon Fraser) and Rolande Taylor (Trinity Western), returned just four underclassmen this season.
Wonderfully-talented Grade 11 point guard Sophia Wisotzki, along with fellow 11’s in forward Anneke Cairnie and guard Kait Samec, as well as Grade 10 guard Fania Taylor make up that quartet.
The rest of a squad?
A pair Grade 11 forwards in Juliana Jacobs and Tabitha Knoedel, Grade 10 guard Alba Garcia, and a pair of Grade 9’s in guards Tia Rowell and Kiera Pemberton.
“It’s a lot of moving parts to get cohesive,” coach Rowell exclaimed, “but it’s nice the pieces are meshing together so well.”
Based on Saturday’s win, that is putting it mildly.
Cairnie led the balanced attack with a game-high 22 points, Taylor scored 21 more, Sophia Wisotzki scored 20, Pemberton 17 and Jacobs 12.
For McMath, 5-foot-11 Grade 9 Caitlin Kippan scored a team-high 20 points, while senior points guard Liz Kennedy added 16 and Grade 11 guard Abby Bodden nine points.
“Fania is a main go-to this year and Anneke has stepped into a role with great defence and her ability to make plays has exceeded my expectations,” said Rowell. “Juliana Jacobs, who is new to us from junior, has really stepped in well. Her outside shooting has been great. And Kiera, from our Grade 8 team, had been a big factor in our ability to score this year. It’s so much change, but we love what we have.”
Of that group of newcomers, Pemberton is immediately unique as a multi-positional 5-foot-10 player who is not only already both fundamentally sound and physically ready to excel at the senior varsity level, but is ready to play on both sides of the ball with an abandon that is beyond her years.
For coach Rowell, it’s a little bit like stepping back to the 2016-17 season, when his daughter Tavia, along with Jessica Wisotzki and Ro Taylor all arrived at senior varsity as Grade 10s, fresh off a loss to Argyle in the 2016 B.C. junior varsity championship game.
“There were some 11’s on that team, but like this season, no Grade 12s,” he said.”We were re-building and I remember we surprised ourselves with how competitive we were.”
It’s pretty obvious that the Gators hope 2019-20 is the start of deja vu all over again.
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