LANGLEY — Chris Veale can sense the tide starting to turn.
The head coach of Langley’s Brookswood Bobcats witnessed his team pull off what thus far, has to be considered the signature win of his team’s 2018-19 season: An 80-78 victory last Saturday over its cross-city rivals, the Walnut Grove Gators, in the championship final of the MEI Eagles Invitational in Abbotsford.
The victory not only came in time to elevate the Bobcats’ perch two more notches to No. 4 in the latest B.C. AAA poll issued Tuesday, it sends Brooskwood into this week’s prestigious Centennial Top 10 Shoot-Out in Coquitlam with the best sense yet of what defines its true identity.
The Bobcats will open pool play Wednesday (6 p.m.) against North Vancouver’s Handsworth Royals. Before entering Friday’s crossover round, Brookswood will clash with defending B.C. champion Kelowna on Thursday (8:45 p.m.). (Full four-day tournament schedule below).
“In the week leading up to the MEI tournament, we talked so much about being a better team on defence,” said Veale, now in his second season at the helm following the retirement of Neil Brown, the program’s architect and longtime legendary head coach. “And we can be better still. It’s the little things like blocking out, and stepping in to take charges.”
When it comes to the latter, Veale admits it’s an art form which has been in short supply of late, largely because he only recently made it a priority.
“We had always been known as a team that would step in and take them, and Tayla would take them like crazy,” continued Veale of former Bobcat and SFU Clan post Tayla Jackson who had elevated it to an art form. “But we haven’t practised it a lot and that is on me. It’s hard for young kids to do it, but it doesn’t hurt that much and the energy it gives a team supersedes it.”
For Brookswood, placing the emphasis on a hellish 40 minutes of defence makes sense because of its athletic and energetic 10-deep rotation.
In fact the way the Bobcats’ defence has evolved, say, against Walnut Grove, offers an insight into their overall capabilities.
The Gators won the first three match-ups this season with the Bobcats.
Walnut Grove beat Brookswood 79-64 in the TBI semifinals on Dec. 15, then followed with a 97-76 win in league play against the ‘Cats, before making it three straight with a 93-76 victory just before Christmas at A Tournament for Emily.
This past Saturday’s 80-78 Brookswood win came behind a largely person-to-person defence with guard Neyha Lali assigned to the Gators’ TBI MVP Tavia Rowell, and forward Jenessa Knapp on WGSS forward Jessica Wisotzki.
No, the Brookswood scheme didn’t shut down the Gators’ two NCAA-bound stars because that would be pretty high on the list of the most impossible tasks in B.C. girls high school basketball.
Yet in doing their best to limit the pair, they brought down the game’s overall score and tempo to more of their liking, and did just enough things in other areas to pull off the upset.
Of course, any future meetings with Walnut Grove will present the challenge of re-adapting, but from a confidence standpoint, putting personnel and scheme together to produce such a significant victory was a huge step forward for Brookswood.
And as Veale speaks about the buy-in en masse, he gives credit where it is due, and that is to senior guard Jenna Dick, whose job just gets easier as the six or so Grade 10 and 11 players in the main rotation, continue to improve.
“Jenna is a our motor, and when your motor runs well, the rest of the car will move well,” said Veale. “This past weekend was a breakout for her and the team. She started playing well and everybody got on board .”
Dick, Grade 10s Lali, Quinn Jasper, Lexis Knop and Mackenzie Cox, and Grade 11 Carolina Sanchez form a dedicated group of guards.
Karsen Look, the 6-foot-4 shot-blocking senior, is part of a group of front-court players that includes fellow seniors Knapp and Olivia Ohlmann, and 6-foot 10th grader Kelsey Lalonde.
“The weekend was the breakthrough that we needed to actually believe in ourselves,” said Veale. “We went nine deep (against Walnut Grove), and not many teams go that deep. It put a confidence in a lot of different kids to know that they can hold the fort.
“Everyone is starting to buy into defence, and that is what it will come down to at the end of the day,” added Veale.”
Agreed, the decision to focus on defence is hardly a revolutionary revelation.
Yet getting to the point where it stops becoming talk and starts becoming a part of that so-called walk can’t be under-estimated.
If indeed a change has come, count the Bobcats in as a team to be reckoned with because the other half of their equation has always been there.
“We’re athletic, we can play up-and-down at a 100-miles-per-hour and I don’t think we’ve hit our stride yet,” says Veale. “We’re a team that is fun to coach, fun to play on and fun to watch.”
The format for this season’s Top 10 Shoot-Out is different than in previous years due to construction at the school and the availability of just one gymnasium versus the normal two gyms.
Thus, the size of the field has been cut from 12 to 16 teams, with one extra day of play added.
The 12 teams have been grouped into four pools and each team will play the other two teams in their respective pool once over the first two days of competition.
From there, the four pool winners meet in Friday semifinals ahead of Saturday’s 5:45 p.m. championship game.
Four games will be played Wednesday, eight games Thursday, and six games both Friday and Saturday.
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