LANGLEY — Welcome to Final Four Friday here at the 2023 B.C. girls high school basketball championships.
We will have live reports on today’s two semifinals.
Check back through the course of the day as we post reports as quickly as we can based on writing, photographic and broadcast demands. Your patience is appreciated!
STORIES BY GARY KINGSTON (Special for Varsity Letters)
No. 2 ABBOTSFORD 75 No. 3 R.A. MCMATH 67
LANGLEY — The opportunity to enhance the Lenz legacy, to put more provincial championship hardware on the family mantel, remains alive.
For most of the last decade, the marvellously gifted Lenz family has been synonymous with senior girls basketball at Abbotsford Senior Secondary.
In a Triple A semifinal on Friday at the Langley Events Centre, Grade 12 forward Malia Lenz, who plays with a bulldog-like ferocity, wasn’t going to be denied the chance to add a second Triple A title to her resume. She first won as a Grade 9 in 2020 when she was a first team all-star and her sister Marin was the MVP as the Panthers beat Okanagan Mission 85-77 with dad, Prentice, as the head coach.
Malia scored a hard-fought 27 points with bruising drives to the basket and clutch work at the free throw line as Abbotsford defeated defending champion R. A. McMath of Richmond 75-67 in a tightly-contested semifinal.
“It was really exciting,” said Malia, who also had 10 rebounds, a block and a pair of steals. “In Grade 9, I was in the provincial finals and I just felt like being able to do that again, with this different team, just playing for them, working together. It just brought out something else in me.”
As hyped up as she was with the opportunity to get to another final, Lenz was as cool as the weather outside in the final 75 seconds when she went 7-of-8 from the free throw line after McMath had closed to within three points after earlier being down by 14.
Earlier in the quarter, her sister, Sorell, a Grade 9 point guard, had knocked down a huge three-pointer as part of a six-point, two-assist effort.
Before Marin, Malia and Sorrell, older sister, Sienna, was a two-time all-star in 2017 and 2018. The 2017 team lost in the Triple A final.
While Malia was a force in the semifinal, so, too, were the dynamic front-court duo of six-foot-two Nyah Vermeulen and six-foot-four Naomi Unger. Vermuelen had 24 points and 11 rebounds, including nine off the offensive glass, while Unger had a team-high 12 boards to go with her nine points.
“Our inside game was huge,” said Prentice Lenz, who is in his 18th season as an Abbotsford coach. “Massive on both ends of the floor.”
As befits a defending champion, McMath put up a spirited fight in the fourth quarter, particularly six-foot-two Marina Radocaj, the Arizona State recruit, who poured in 13 of her 27 points with two treys and some eye-popping spin- o-ramas to the basket. Grade 11 forward Caitlan Kippan added 12 points.
“We knew that they were going to come after us,” said coach Lenz. “With players that good, they’re not going to give it up. They’re going to go right to the end.
“They had that run and we were fortunate enough to withstand it and hit a few buckets of our own and we were OK.”
McMath head coach Jamie Kippan was proud of his squad’s fight after falling behind by double digits.
“We gave them everything we could, but that’s a pretty solid team. They got some size, they got a guard (Lenz) who can do just about everything. We were just a little bit short today.”
No. 1 ST. MICHAELS UNIVERSITY SCHOOL 42 NO. 4 SOUTH KAMLOOPS 32
LANGLEY — It seemed like there was a lid on the basket at times in Friday’s Triple A girls semifinal between St. Michaels University School and the South Kamloops Titans.
The final shooting percentages — 28 for the Blue Jags and 27 for the Titans — confirmed that. But it certainly isn’t easy to score with defenders draped all over you, contesting every single shot as if it could be an overtime buzzer beater.
As defensive slugfests go, the No. 1 seed Blue Jags’ grind-it-out 43-32 victory was as mucky as a mud-wrestling match, as brutal as a 15-round championship boxing bout.
When it was done, ice packs were almost certainly needed in both lockerrooms.
Asked if it was as good a defensive effort as her team has played all season, SMU’s head coach Lindsay Brooke replied: “I would say so!”
“Both teams played very good defence.”
It was the Blue Jags’ full-court pressure, however, that was a critical piece of the game-plan for the Victoria school. The Jags forced 26 turnovers, while committing just 16 themselves.
“That was our game plan, we were going to play full court for 40 minutes,” said Brooke. “I was just really proud of our defence.”
The win puts SMU into Saturday’s Triple A final against the No. 2 seed Abbotsford Panthers as the Blue Jags look for the school’s first ever senior girls title.
“We’re just so happy,” said Grade 10 guard Avery Geddes, who had 10 points, six of them to close out a 14-0 run over the third quarter and early fourth.
She converted a tough left-handed layup in traffic and converted the and-one, then drained a three-pointer on the next possession as SMU went up 37-20.
“It seems like we’ve working for this for so long,” said Geddes. “It’s been a difficult season and we’re just so excited.”
Makena Anderson led the Blue Jags with 16 points.
Grade 11 guard Kiana Kaczur was the only Titans player in double figures with 13 points, but committed seven turnovers.
“That is a big, strong, athletic, well-coached team Titans’ head coach Del Komarniski said of SMU.
“We would have had to be very good to do better than we did today. I’m not disappointed with our effort. We reebounded, we worked. Everything was contested, everything was challenged at every position across the board.”
Brooke said the Panthers, who are athletic and long-limbed in the paint with six-foot-four centre Naomi Unger and six-foot-two forward Nyah Vermuelen will present a huge challenge.
“Definitely contrasting styles, but they are very big,” she said with a hearty laugh. “They’re the biggest team we’ll have played all season. They’re loaded with long athletes.
“I think both coaches are maybe not going to get a good sleep tonight.”
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