G.W. Graham's Brody Janzen (left) and Braeden Macdonald (right), pictured while defending Byrne Creek's McArthur Hilton during the 2021 TBI at the Langley Events Centre last December, returned to their favourite court Thursday and topped Robert Bateman in the East Valley semifinals. The win qualified the 2020 B.C. Triple A champions for the 2022 Big Dance beginning March 9. (Photo by Howard Tsumura property of Varsity Letters 2022. All Rights Reserved)
Feature High School Boys Basketball

The Grizz find their growl! After a soul-crushing January, Chilliwack’s defending B.C. Triple-A champs find a way to punch their golden tickets to Big Dance ’22!

LANGLEY — It’s never easy to punch your tickets to the Big Dance, and no one could relate to that any better than the head coach of the defending B.C. Triple A basketball champions from Chilliwack’s G.W. Graham Secondary.

“All we wanted to do was to get back to the B.C.’s so we could get a copy of the program to see of all our pictures in it,” deadpanned Jake Mouritzen of the fact that the most recent champions — in his case the 2020 Graham Grizzlies — have always enjoyed the honour of adorning the cover of the souvenir tournament program.

“But hey, this year… you punch your ticket and it’s anyone’s game… it’s wide open and it will be fun,” added Mourtizen after this 2022-vintage Grizz, holding honourable mention status in the latest provincial poll, powered their way to a 79-67 win over Abbotsford’s Robert Bateman Timberwolves in the Eastern Valley Triple A semifinals.

Graham will face the MEI Eagles in Sunday’s 4:30 p.m. zone final at the LEC, as the Eastern Valley sends it top two to the B.C. championships March 9-12. Abbotsford’s Eagles beat Langley’s Brookswood Bobcats 73-47 in the second semifinal.

Thursday’s win for G.W, Graham came despite losing twice this month alone to Bateman.

“We were devastated by some major injuries over a three-week span in January and then 12 kids got COVID,” said Mouritzen whose charges fell to Bateman 85-56 on Feb. 3, and then 81-67 on Feb. 8. “We took a lot of losses with a pretty small bench.”

Yet in its biggest game of its season, a 21-of-25 night from the free throw line seemed to offer proof of their focus.

Bardia Shokouhi, the 5-foot-10 guard, went 12-of-14 from the stripe and also dropped home six triples as part of a game-high 32 point performance.

Two of his fellow senior also shone.

Brodie Janzen, the 6-foot-4 guard, added 20 more points, while Caden Switzer, a 6-foot-2 guard, added 11.

Yet just as big was the defensive performance put forth by both senior Jared Hall and Grade 11 Braeden MacDonald.

“They took the challenge of shutting down their No. 33,” Mourtizen said of Bateman’s ultra-talented forward Joshua Vandevelde.

“He is the most under-rated small forward in the entire province … he’s the real deal with his big, flowing hair,” continued Mourtizen. “We double-teammed him the entire night and he still scored 22 points.”

After a challenging month of January, Mouritzen is hopeful that his team is starting to peak at just the right time.

“When they shut down tournaments for January, we made an effort to reach out to everyone,” the coach said. “No one traveled more than us in January. We didn’t get to play (Prince George’s) Duchess Park, and other than Okanagan Mission and North Delta, no one would come to play us in Chilliwack.

“So we went to St. Pat’s. We went to Elgin Park, then to Steveston-London, and to (A.R.) MacNeill. We had to think outside the box, so we jumped on the bus and we did it old school.”

The win made the Grizzlies just the fourth team in B.C. to qualify for 2022 senior provincials and the first from a non up-country school. Already, Cranbrook’s Mt. Baker (Kootenays) and North Central’s North Peace (Ft. St. John) from Quad-A, and Nelson’s L.V. Rogers (Nelson) from Triple-A had earned berths.

It’s all a part of busy stretch if qualification games which will see another 60 schools punch golden tickets on the road to the LEC, the vast majority by this Saturday night.

By the end of Thursday evening alone, a further seven senior boys teams will have clinched berths from various tiers of the Eastern Valley, Vancouver Sea to Sly and Fraser North zones.

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