LANGLEY — Welcome to Day 2 of the B.C. girls basketball championships from the Langley Events Centre.
To our treasured readers, thank you so much for all of your support on Wednesday, leaning on us for coverage from the biggest game of the 2022-23 season.
Please come back here throughout the day for live game stories and photos as we update the quarterfinal round and set the stage for Friday’s Final Four semifinals.
ALL STORIES BY GARY KINGSTON (Special to Varsity Letters)
NO. 4 SOUTH KAMLOOPS 67 No. 5 MEI EAGLES 36
LANGLEY – At five-foot-10, Grace McDonald is the tallest player on the South Kamloops senior girls basketball roster and, as such, is listed at, and essentially plays at, the centre position.
But very few players in Triple A get as much out of their size as does the Grade 12 and Thompson Rivers University recruit.
She boxes out with terrific positioning, runs the floor, shoots the jumper and plays the kind of quick hands, technically sound defence that the Titans are noted for. It was all on display Thursday as the No. 4 seed Titans used 21-0 and 16-0 runs to turn back the No. 5 seed MEI Eagles 67-36 in a B.C. championships quarterfinal.
And it was only that close when the Abbotsford school scored eight late fourth quarter points against the farthest end of the Kamloops bench.
McDonald scored 16 points, six of them off offensive rebound putbacks, and was at least in double digits in rebounds. (No rebounding stats were kept at the scorers table.)
It was a third quarter play, however, that displayed the breadth of her talents. She stole a pass into the defensive high post, went the full length of the court with the ball and deftly banked in with ease a contested lay in.
“She’s a well-rounded basketball player for sure,” said Titans’ head coach Del Komarniski. “She’s not limited. We list her as our centre, but she’s just a basketball player.
He said McDonald definitely plays taller than five-foot-10.
“She’s long, she gets after it an she had good instincts. She’s tenacious and she does a lot for us.”
MEI head coach Rick Thiesen noted that the Titans’ work on the glass was a crucial part of the game.
“Their offensive rebounding was outstanding. That’s what really hurt us. They just pursued everything around the hoop and that’s where we got a lot of our fouls.”
MEI actually came out quite strong as Grade 12 star Bree Neufeld, despite being guarded by the Titans best defender, Kylee Koppes, scored nine of the Eagles first 12 points to stake the team to a 12-8 lead. But it was basically all South Kamloops after that as they used that 21-0 run over the first and second quarters to hit their stride and build a 29-12 advantage.
“They came out playing hard,” Kopmarniski said of the Eagles. “Felt like we were back on our heels a little bit. But we managed to get our foot in and kept them in front of us. I thought we did a a really good job.”
The Titans held Clayton Heights to just 46 points in an opening round win and Komarinski said defence is something his players take particular pride in.
“They understand what we’re trying to accomplish, understand how to support each other off the ball, understand their roles and help (defence). The fundamentals are strong. With this group from top to bottom they’re interested in playing defence. They take pride in that and you can’t say that with a lot of groups.”
The Titans were led offensively by Okanagan MVP Lucy Marchese, a five-foot-nine guard/forward who had 19 points, including a trio of three pointers, and was rested for most of the fourth quarter.
The Titans now head to the semifinals where they’ll almost certainly face No. 1 seed St. Michaels University School Blue Jags, who held a 43-13 halftime lea over Little Flower Academy in another quarterfinal on Thursday.
It will be the first meeting of the season between the two teams.
NO. 1 ST. MICHAELS UNIVERSITY SCHOOL BLUE JAGS 68 LITTLE FLOWER ACADEMY ANGELS 35
LANGLEY – In 1978, St. Michaels University School turned co-ed, admitting girls for the first time.
While the Victoria school’s senior boys basketball team has won provincial titles, with future NBA MVP Steve Nash in 1992 and again in 2015, the senior girls have never tasted ultimate success at the provincial level.
Could 2023 by the year? Finally?
The No. 1 seeded Blue Jags advanced to the Triple A semifinals with a 68-35 quarterfinal dismantling Thursday of the No. 7 Little Flower Academy Angels. They’ll face No. 4 South Kamloops Titans at 5p on Friday at the Langley Events Centre in the first meeting between the two teams this season.
“They play with a lot grit and scrappiness, so we’re excited to play them because it’s kind of the same as how we play,” said Grade 12 forward Makena Anderson, who led the Blue Jags in scoring on Thursday with 22.
The Titans have been dialed in defensively through their first two games and will present a significant challenge to Anderson and Co.
“They play very good defence,” said Blue Jags head coach Lindsay Brooke. “And they’re organized offensively. It’s going to be a great game. We’re excited.
“It’s a very interesting matchup. I feel like we have some similarities in how we play.”
Anderson said it would be incredibly rewarding to the school next week with the first senior girls trophy.
“It would mean a lot to us. We’ve been a core group since we were 13 and 14,” she said of the Grade 12 heavy group. “It’s crazy that we’ve come all this way. Everyone back at the school is rooting for us. There’s alumni that come and watch us play. It would mean a lot. That was our issue last year (in a Double A semifinal loss to eventual champion Langley Christian), we didn’t have a lot of belief that we could win. Ranked fifth and ended up third. This year, we’ve been really focussing on having the confidence and having the belief that we can win a provincial banner. I think we’re feeling pretty good.
They were certainly on fire on Thursday, jumping to a 18-6 first quarter lead and then bumping the margin to 43-13 at the half.
The Blue Jags ran their offence smoothly, defended with tenacity and dominant work on the boards.
“We started well, got our press going and caused lots of turnovers,” said Brooke.
Brooke, who made it to a provincial Triple A final in 1995 as a diminutive point guard with Spectrum as a player and who’s daughter, Grade 10 Avery Geddes is a guard on the Blue Jags, says SMU has been knocking on the door in the last few years and is ready to break it down.
“We’ve been in the hunt. When this group was juniors, we lost in the final. Last year, we lost in the semis as Two A. We’ve been around it.”
And a first ever senior girls title this year?
“That would be amazing, that’s what every school wants.”
BOTTOM HALF DRAW
NO. 3 R.A. MCMATH WILDCATS 48 NO. 6 SA-HALI SABRES 36
LANGLEY – Sometimes you just have to win ugly.
That was certainly the case Thursday as the defending champion and No. 3 seed McMath Wildcats out of Richmond beat the Sa-Hali Sabres of Kamloops 48-36 in a grind-it-out Triple A quarterfinal at the B.C. senior girls basketball championships.
It was the kind of game where you erase the video for fear that viewing it again might blind you. While both defences did dig in effectively at times, there were also way too many careless turnovers, a bushel full of missed shots and a distinct lack of execution from both teams.
It was, indeed, a mostly unattractive display of hoops.
“I’m glad you saw it that way, too,” said Wildcats’ head coach Jamie Kippan with a wry grin. “It wasn’t just me then
“We just had trouble getting the ball in the hoop today. We shot lights out (Wednesday in an 82-51 win over John Oliver.) We were pretty cold today. That certainly wasn’t our best game, but credit to Sa-Hali. They were making it hard.”
The Wildcats led 29-12 at the half and 43-29 with under four minutes remaining and the Sabres enjoying a bit of momentum. But in perhaps the prettiest, and most clutch, play of the game, Grade 11 McMath guard Aaria Johal drained a dead-eye three-pointer at the shot clock buzzer to essentially clinch things.
“That was a big hoop for us,” said Kippan. “And that came after, finally, a full, good offensive possession for us where we ran the play properly. We got rewarded for running it by hitting that shot.”
A beaming Johal said making that trey was “a lot of fun. We took our time on the possession and I was able to put up a good shot.”
McMath was led offensively by six-foot-two forward/guard Marina Radocaj with 22 points, but the Arizona State-bound senior did look winded and out of sorts at times, missing some good looks. Johal had six points off two treys and second-leading scorer Caitlin Kippan was held to six by a Sabres’ defence that keyed on her and didn’t allow her a lot of open shots.
McMath now advances to a semifinal matchup on Friday (3:15 p.m.) against the winner of the Abbotsford-Argyle quarterfinal.
Despite the unartistic struggle Thursday, Johal believes the Wildcats, who won the school’s first provincial title in any sport last season, can repeat.
“I believe so. I’m very confident. We all have really good insight into what it takes and if we just get into the right mindset I do think we can take it all the way. “
The loss was a tough one for Sa-Hali, which had believed it was ready to make a run to the Final Four.
“I thought our defence was solid, but we just didn’t have the ball drop for us,” said head coach Jody Vosper. “I don’t know if we made an outside shot all game. When you don’t hit any (three pointers) against a good team, it’s tough to win.”
“We had our hearts set on a medal, so this loss will be heartbreaking for the team.”
NO. 2 ABBOTSFORD PANTHERS 79 NO. 10 ARGYLE PIPERS 54
LANGLEY – Size does matter at times and that was never more evident than when the Abbotsford Panthers senior girls basketball team went on a 17-0 run Thursday against the Argyle Panthers.
The decisive stretch over the third quarter and early in the fourth propelled the No. 2 seed Panthers to a 79-54 triumph and into the semifinals of the Triple A provincial championships.
The Pipers, who had a pair of small leads in the first half and were giving the senior-laden Panthers all they could handle, just had no answer for Abbotsford’s trio of bigs, who kept getting dominant position in the paint and kept snaring offensive rebounds. And with the ball in their hands, it seemed as if they couldn’t miss.
“It was amazing,” said Panthers head coach Prentice Lenz. “Nyah (Vandermuelen, a six-foot-two forward) was phenomenal in that stretch. Maybe she might have missed one, but it didn’t feel like she missed any of those. She was able to finish in tough.
“And when she didn’t, Naomi (Unger, a six-foot-four centre) was able to clean up the glass and hit a couple there. They were a massive difference in this game. And at the other end of the floor, too, in keeping second-chance points off in that run as well. They played awesome.”
Vandermuelen scored eight of her 25 points in that stretch, all on close shots from right around the basket, while Unger had four points, including two off an offensive rebound putback on her stick-with-it third attempt.
Malia Lenz, the coach’s daughter, also had 25 points as the Panthers showed an ability to process a tough first half and realize that if they just stayed patient they’d eventually find the stride that had lifted them to a 30-3 overall record this season.
With seven of his 10 roster players in Grade 12, including two were just in Grade 9 when Abbotsford won the provincial title in 2020, Prentice knows he’s benefitting from an experienced group which with skills that have continued to grow this season.
“That maturity really helped us in this game,” said coach Lenz. “We didn’t get flustered. There was going to be resistance, people are going to keep coming at you, but I thought they showed some great maturity.
Abbotsford now gets the No. 4 McMath Wildcats in a semifinal on Friday. The defending champion squad from Richmond didn’t look that good on Thursday, but Vandermuelen knows the Wildcats will be a big challenge on the road to Saturday’s final and perhaps a title to match the one from 2020.
“That’s our goal,” she said. “It would be incredible with all the seniors we have. That would just be amazing.”
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