Grade 10 point guard Ashley Chio has played beyond her years in helping West Vancouver punch its ticket to March Madness. (Photo by Blair Shier property of 2022. All Rights Reserved)
Feature High School Girls Basketball

The Power of Plaid: In lending a hand to All My Relations indigenous women’s team, Big Dance-bound West Van Highlanders tap a collective vein to their own gritty hearts!

WEST VANCOUVER — A return to the Big Dance for the first time in a quarter century is turning out to be the ultimate win-win for the senior girls basketball team from West Vancouver Secondary School.

After all, what head coach doesn’t want their team dialled in with 100 per cent focus, ready to sacrifice for their teammates as the biggest games of the season loom?

And if goals like that can be achieved while, first and foremost using the power of its team culture to lend a helping hand to others, it is indeed a win-win.

And that’s just where the Highlanders find themselves these days by not only qualifying for the B.C. Quad-A championships set to open a four-day run March 2 at the Langley Events Centre, but making the provincial tournament for the first time in what head coach Greg Meldrum believes to be 25 years.

Just prior to the start of the Vancouver Sea-to-Sky zone championship tournament, the West Vancouver senior girls decided to throw their support behind the All My Relations indigenous women’s basketball team from the Downtown Eastside, with a fund-raiser they hoped would help defer some of their costs to the upcoming All-Native basketball tournament in Prince Rupert, as well as provide additional basketball programming for the youth of their community.

“So in each of last three playoff games, the parents and the coaches on our team have donated money for every hustle play on the court,” explains Meldrum, who 31 years ago, prior to beginning his university career with the Victoria Vikes, led the Highlanders senior boys on a run to the Final 8 at the 1991 B.C. championships.

West Vancouver’s Chloe Charles rises above the rival Handsworth Royals earlier this season. (Photo by Blair Shier property of 2022. All Rights Reserved)

All of those at WVSS stepping up to support the AMR women’s team are pledging $1 dollar for every offensive rebound or steal the plaid-clad crew makes, and $2 every time they dive on the floor for a loose ball.

The capper?

“A whopping $20 for every charge drawn,” says Meldrum.

In a particularly feisty 62-41 Sea-to-Sky semifinal win over one of its top North Shore rivals, the Argyle Pipers, the team raised $586 alone. (Have a look here).

That win, one which came ahead of a loss to Vancouver’s Sir Winston Churchill Bulldogs in the zone final, clinched the Highlanders’ B.C. tourney berth and sent them dancing with a 14-3 overall record.

Leading the way this season have been the likes of Grade 11 small forward Sophia Ahern, who has averaged 18 points, eight rebounds and five steals per game, Grade 10 point guard Ashley Chio, and senior forward Libby Meldrum, the gritty 5-foot-10 forward who will play volleyball next season as a setter at Kamloops’ Thompson Rivers University.

The entire team will gather Wednesday at 7 pm in a classroom at the school following a practice to watch the livestream from the host site at the Langley Events Centre which will reveal just whom West Vancouver and B.C.’s 47 other senior varsity teams in tiers AA-through-AAAA will meet in the opening round of provincials.

It’s a moment girls high school basketball players around the province have come to count on as part of the grand tradition of March Madness.

West Vancouver Highlanders (left to right) Libby Meldrum, Sophia Ahern, Elvira Piriyeva, and Rylee Crookshanks hold raffle as part of fundraising efforts on behalf of the All My Relations team. (Photo property of West Vancouver athletics 2022. All Rights Reserved)

Yet for the Highlanders, it’s also akin to going into overtime for the chance to continue to fund-raise for the All My Relations women’s team because they are going to get another four games of action.

“That’s the plan,” laughs Meldrum. “We’ll see how many pledgers stay on for another four games. It seemed a pretty lofty goal to make the B.C.’s a few weeks ago.”

Meldrum stresses that any role his team can play in raising funds and creating awareness of what the AMR team represents both in its community and on the court is of vital importantance.

Wrote CBC reporter Baneet Braich in a story published Feb. 4 on the AMR team: “For nearly two decades, the All My Relations team has been based in the Downtown Eastside neighbourhood of Vancouver. The team is made up of 14 Indigenous women aged between 17 and 40, as well as  40 alumni, who come from on and off reserves.

“Many of the women are single mothers, post-secondary students and community advocates for sports, and many are suffering intergenerational trauma and have relatives or friends who have gone missing. Team members support each other by taking counselling or doing workout sessions together.”

Read Braich’s entire posting here.

The win-win for the Highlanders, strictly from a team unity standpoint heading into the provincials?

Plaid is no fad at West Vancouver Secondary. This season, with the help of team scoring leader Sophia Ahern, the Highlanders are off to the B.C. championships for the first time in 25 years. (Photo by Blair Shier property of 2022. All Rights Reserved)

Nothing in the sport of basketball speaks to the nitty-gritty of sacrifice for each other more than going to the floor to secure possession of a loose ball, or standing in courageously to draw a charge.

In fact no two actions within in the game, shy of a pivotal made basket, will bring an entire bench off its feet to cheer a teammate.

Yet through their fundraiser, the Highlanders have found a way to take sacrificing on the court for their teammates to an entirely new level of meaning.

“Our girls had no idea what an offensive charge actually was until we implemented this… some coach I am, right?” chuckled Meldrum of the change of mindset borne from the fund-raiser. “We took one charge in our first 14 games and we’ve taken seven in our last three.”

You can check out the progress of West Vancouver’s fund-raising efforts through its Instagram page @wvseniorgirlsbball

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