PORT COQUITLAM — On the last day of the 2016-17 high school basketball season, dire predictions about the state of the girls game in our province seemed to be the last thing on anyone’s mind.
A new concept, which pitted age-class competition in an all-star game format between the Fraser Valley and Lower Mainland zones on Wednesday so perfectly captured the competitive spirit and current state of talent in B.C. that coaches could be excused for raving about the current state of the union.
“I’ve heard a lot about how girls basketball in B.C. is getting worse and worse, but I don’t think it’s getting worse,” said Paul Chiarenza of Surrey’s Southridge Storm, who co-coached the Fraser Valley team with Langley Christian’s Dani Gardner, to a 78-64 win over the Lower Mainland team.
“I think the quality of the players is getting higher, and we saw more depth tonight,” continued Chiarenza, who then placed Wednesday’s finale alongside what transpired at last month’s B.C. tournaments.
“I saw more good basketball at this year’s provincials than I have seen in a long time. The No. 13 vs. No. 4 (seedings) games were competitive, and (at Triple A) a No. 8 seed (Lord Tweedsmuir) won it all. They weren’t a typical No. 8 but they were No. 5 in the Fraser Valley. I don’t think we’re lacking for talent.”
That was especially plain to see through the format introduced by Paul Langford, head senior girls coach at the evening’s host site, PoCo’s Riverside Secondary.
The rivalry between the two zones opened with a Futures Game for those players in the graduating classes of 2018 and ’19. It was followed by the seniors game for 2017 grads, and during halftime breaks and breaks between games, a Young Guns team made up of Grade 8s and 9s took to the floor in a half-court setting, showcasing their skills for a near-capacity crowd.
“When I heard that the Grade 12s weren’t going to have an all-star game this season, I thought of this idea,” said Langford. “The senior (zone vs. zone) game might not have been a stand-alone, but there are such a ton of great young kids right now, that it was just a natural. Of course it’s always a problem as to who you pick, but in the end, we got a close, competitive game.”
As in Lower Mainland 67, Fraser Valley 64 close.
What you need to know here is that the Abbotsford Panthers’ superstar sister duo of Marin and Sienna Lenz, along with Walnut Grove’s Tavia Rowell and Argyle’s Georgia Swant did not take part in the game for various reasons, and the game was still incredible.
New Westminster Hyacks’ 5-10 Grade 11 point guard Sarah Forgie was special throughout the fourth quarter, manufacturing eight free throw trips in the final stanza and finishing with a game-high 16 points to go along with 10 rebounds, six assists, five steals and a highlight-reel block from behind to prevent a breakaway lay-in.
“Sarah was big for us,” said Mainland coach Anthony Beyrouti, who guided the team with fellow Argyle Pipers coach Anthony Fortunaso. “She really stepped up her game.”
No game MVPs were chosen in either game Wednesday, but if they did, Forgie would have been the most likely Futures candidate.
Martha Melaku of Richmond’s R.A. McMath Wildcats (14 points) and Julia Strigl of North Vancouver’s Handsworth Royals (7 points) brought their physicality to proceedings to very positive effect.
And Beyrouti felt that the trio of players from Vancouver’s Britannia Bruins — guards Lucy Guan and Shemaiah Abatayo, forward Malena Mokhovikova — brought great energy in the second half.
McMath’s Abby Zawada (6 points) was also impressive throughout.
The Fraser Valley team, guided by Abbotsford Panthers coaches Prentice Lenz and Elmore Abraham, was led by the dead-eye shooting of a pair of rivals.
Sydney Fetterly of Abbotsford and Jenna Dick of Langley’s Brookswood Bobcats, each took turns shooting out the lights and finished with 13 points apiece.
Dick hit four triples and Fetterly three.
Makenna Gardner, a ninth grader from Langley Christian, earned her spot in the game by virtue of her selection as a first-team all-star at the Fraser Valley championships, and she lived up to it by hitting three triples herself and finishing with 10 points.
Lord Tweedsmuir guard Harneet Sidhu, a rising senior with the B.C. champs, continued to show why she will be one of B.C.’s top scorers with a focused performance that saw her score seven points, including 4-for-4 free throw shooting.
“Some of our girls were a little nervous to start the game, so I said ‘It’s basketball, something you’re pretty good at and that’s why you’re here,’” said Beyrouti. “A lot of people pay attention to the Class of 2017, but I think the future is very good.”
The Lower Mainland led 13-12 after the first quarter, 24-23 at half, and 47-46 after three frames.
Yes. What a game it was.
“The biggest problem I have had with all-star games in B.C. is that they are never competitive,” said Chiarenza after the Valley got hot late and won 78-64. “But this Lower Mainland-Fraser Valley thing? They have been duking it out for provincial (wildcard) berths for years. There is something about wanting to beat the other zone that I don’t think exists in the other formats we’ve had. And they did a nice job of picking the kids.”
The latter was reflected in a game that was not only tight until the Valley squad strung together 8-0 and 9-0 runs in the fourth, but on the scoresheet where there were nine total double-figure scorers.
Five came from the Valley, led by the 14 points of Gonzaga-bound, Varsity Letters Player of the Year Louise Forsyth of Langley’s Brookswood Bobcats.
SFU-bound Kendal Sands (Coquitlam-Dr. Charles Best), Cap-Baptist signee and B.C. Triple A tourney MVP Maryn Budiman (Surrey-Lord Tweedsmuir) and Sav Dhaliwal (Surrey-Panorama Ridge) each scored 11 points. Azalya Forstbauer of Chilliwack’s Sardis Falcons added 10 more.
Sage Stobbart, the 6-foot-3 forward from B.C. Double A champion Seycove finished her high school career surrounded by teammates and coaches Darcy Grant and Geoff Russell.
Stobbart scored 11 of her team-high 13 points in the second half, including a silky-smooth trey, and also blocked a number of shots.
Her teammates also supplied offence, with Lindsey Bott (10), Kayla Krug (8) and Stephanie Laube (3) combining for 21 points. In the end, the 34 Seycove points were more than half the team’s total.
Kitsilano’s Dina Strujic also hit double figures with 11 points.
Alexa Leynes of Vancouver’s Sir Winston Churchill Bulldogs was one of the best players on the floor, her energy and physicality leading to 10 points.
THE FUTURE AND BEYOND?
“Holy smokes there is a lot of talent,” said Beyrouti in reference to the 8’s and 9’s who played in the Young Guns half-court exhibitions. “You can see the athleticism and the athletes that are being drawn to the game of basketball.”
The format will continue. Langford says Riverside can continue to host, but adds the festivities could move to another location next season. He also mentioned a potential Valley vs. Mainland game at Single A.
So get ready for what looks to be an amazing 2017-18 season.
But also cherish the moments where B.C.’s best seniors got a chance to play their final high school games and say goodbye to their friends and rivals.
With that said, and through the help of a moment I was able to capture between game rivals Sage Stobbart and Kendal Sands, it’s time to start the countdown to November. (Full box scores for both games under this picture!)
CLASS OF 2017 SENIORS
FRASER VALLEY 78 LOWER MAINLAND 64
Hannah Morrison 2, Maryn Budiman 11, Shae Sanchez 7, Savannah Dhaliwal 11, Kendal Sands 11, Selah Pankratz, Louise Forsyth 14, Azalya Forstbauer 10, Simrat Dosanjh 7, Sarah Knowles 5.
Alexa Leynes 10, Devon Wood 2, Dina Strujic 11, Georgia Nelson 2, Stephanie Laube 3, Kayla Krug 8, Lindsey Bott 10, Madison Legault 2, Sadie Beers 3, Saffron van der Linde, Sage Stobbart 13.
LOWER MAINLAND 67 FRASER VALLEY 64
Lucy Guan, Emma Stewart-Barnett 2, Tanis Metcalfe 3, Skyler MacDonald 3, Abby Zawada 6, Julia Strigl 7, Alex Walker 5, Rachel Feenan 1, Malena Mokhovikova 2, Martha Melaku 14, Sarah Forgie 16, Shemaiah Abatayo 7, Julia Tancon 1.
Kelsey Roufosse, Hailey Counsel 4, Shelvin Grewal 4, Madison Draayers, Jenna Dick 13, Emma Kramer 2, Jess Wisotzki 4, Grace Killins, Harneet Sidhu 7, Deanna Tuchscherer 7, Sydney Fetterly 13, Janessa Knapp, Makenna Gardner 10.
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