ABBOTSFORD — Take one look at the draw for this week’s Timberwolves Classic senior girls basketball tournament at Robert Bateman Secondary, and the natural instinct is to start counting.
Pretty quickly you discover, that with seven teams holding the distinction of either Top 10 or honourable mention status in the latest B.C. Triple-A rankings, this three-day, 16-team invitational set to open Thursday (full tournament draw below) is one worth watching.
Yet perhaps the most unique part of all is that for the first time ever, the No. 8-ranked host team is talented enough to contend for all the spoils, and that’s within a field which includes the likes of the No. 2 Walnut Grove Gators and the No. 4 Brookswood Bobcats.
Take a wide-scope look at the established guard of top-tiered B.C. senior girls high school basketball, and it’s apparent that membership within the top of that pecking order is never an overnight proposition.
It’s what has made lengthy stays at or within the Top 10 over the last decade by programs like Brookswood, Riverside, Kelowna, W.J. Mouat and Oak Bay so impressive.
And as the Robert Bateman Timberwolves move into that rarified air for the first time as a senior varsity program, none of that struggle has been lost on Dan Village, the team’s energetic young head coach.
“Chris Veale said it best,” begins Village of the Brookswood Bobcats head coach. “It’s about all of the hours you spend with your team in the gym, about the time, the energy and so many other things that the outsider maybe doesn’t consider.”
And in the case of these Timberwolves, most definitely about a four-year journey of buy-in from a group of dedicated players who all those years ago, accepted not only the free t-shirt, but the challenge of growing into a team which could compete against the very best in the province by their senior year.
If, by chance, host Bateman is able to win the first two games of its Timberwolves Classic, there is a chance they could come face-to-face with Tavia Rowell and the rest of B.C. AAA’s No. 2-ranked Walnut Grove Gators in an 11 a.m. Saturday semifinal.
And while they would be underdogs in any such meeting against the vaunted Gators, a Bateman team which sits just above the Double-A enrolment limit hasn’t lost sight of the fact that perseverance has not only kept their core together, it’s allowed them to be in a place where the potential for just such match-ups are possible.
“I don’t think we have seen (Walnut Grove) in four years, or at least since this team was in Grade 9,” says Village, “so we’re really hoping we see them at our tournament.”
As far as signature wins go, Bateman already has one of those this season in the form of a 73-70 triumph over the Brookswood Bobcats earlier this month in a game played at the Langley Events Centre.
And while Village wasn’t thinking of that precise scenario back in the 2014-15 season when he spoke to his current players for the first time, back in their Grade 8 days at neighbouring Clayburn Middle School, the hope was always to mould a team that would work to reach its potential
“They had been playing together since Grade 5 and they were all good friends,” Village remembers of a core which has steadfastly remained together. “The program at Bateman was a bit of an afterthought back then, but I told them that we were willing to invest in them. They were willing to put the work in, and four years later, here we are.”
Along the way, as a precursor to their breakthrough senior campaign?
In 2015-16, their first season at Bateman, the Timberwolves beat North Vancouver’s St. Thomas Aquinas to win the B.C. Grade 9 championship title.
In 2016-17, they followed with a bronze-medal finish at the B.C. Junior championships, topping Surrey’s Lord Tweedsmuir Panthers in the third-place contest.
And if their 2017-18 senior varsity campaign fell just shy of a big goal, it clearly set the bar for the current season
“We lost to Brookswood to get to the provincials last year, so the theme this year is one of redemption,” said Village of a program which has never qualified for senior B.C.’s at the sport’s top tier. “Just to make provincials would be a huge accomplishment.”
Of course hitting their collective mark with so-called podium finishes at both the Grade 9 and Junior provincial tournaments, followed by Top 10 status this season, wouldn’t be possible without talent.
To that end, the current Class of ‘19 group Village has helped nurture since their Grade 9 year has not disappointed.
At the top end, it’s led by 5-foot-11 point guard Jayden Gill, the B.C. Under-17 select who helped lead her province to third place at the national championships over the summer.
In December, Gill announced she would begin her university career next season with Langley’s Trinity Western Spartans.
“She is our most athletic player, a real slasher and a lock-down defender,” Village says of Gill. “We put her on the other team’s best player. I know Trinity Western loves her defensive pizzazz.”
Amira Jensen, Karsen Lazeo, Kayla Wilford, Kira Joaquin and Manny Gill complete the group which has moved through the ranks since its beginnings to their senior year.
“We’re a pretty athletic team,” says Village. “We’re multi-sport kids who in the last year or two have decided to focus on basketball, so we’re starting to learn the nuances of what a real basketball player is.”
And befitting Village’s football background — he played collegiately at Queen’s University — there is a certain blue-collar mentality his teams take onto the floor for every game.
“We’re pretty well-conditioned, and our style is we like to press to get our legs going and then wear teams down,” he said. “This team has worked so hard to compete with the upper echelon, and along the way there have been times where it would have been easy for them to quit. They have toughed it out and I am so proud of them.”
(all games at Robert Bateman unless otherwise noted)
TOP HALF DRAW
3 p.m. — Walnut Grove vs. Sardis
4:45 p.m. — G.W. Graham vs. W.J. Mouat
6:30 p.m. — Unity Christian vs.Panorama Ridge
8 p.m. — Robert Bateman vs. Whistler
BOTTOM HALF DRAW
QUADRANT C (at Yale Secondary)
3 p.m. — Brookswood vs. Terry Fox
4:45 p.m. — Lord Tweedsmuir vs. MEI
QUADRANT D (at Yale Secondary)
6:30 p.m. — Yale vs. Dr. Charles Best
8 p.m — Okanagan Mission vs. Centennial
TOP HALF DRAW
3 p.m. — Quadrant A winners
4:45 p.m. — Quadrant B winners
BOTTOM HALF DRAW
6:30 p.m. — Quadrant C winners
8 p.m. — Quadrant D winners
11 a.m. — Top-half winners
12:45 p.m. — Bottom-half winner
8:30 p.m.— semifinal winners
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