VANCOUVER — It was back six weeks ago, at mid-December’s Tsumura Basketball Invitational, that East Vancouver’s Britannia Bruins announced themselves as a team with the wherewithal to embark on a provincial championship-title journey.
On their way to knocking off ranked Quad-A powers Kelowna, Yale and Riverside before finally falling to Triple-A No. 1 Okanagan Mission in the TBI tournament final, the Bruins gave veteran head coach Mike Evans every reason to believe that not only were they among a handful of favourites to potentially win the school’s first provincial title since 2012, but that they were simply one of the best teams in B.C. regardless of tier.
This week, as Double-A No. 2 Britannia heads into its final invitational tournament of the season, the three-day Vancouver Girls Basketball Association Langara Challenge in which it plays the role of runaway favourites, the wins have just kept coming.
All of which might lend reason to believe that nothing much has changed.
Yet stick your head in the gym for practice, and it’s apparent that no one has rested on their early-season laurels.
“I would say that the biggest improvement since December has come defensively,” Evans said Tuesday, clearly delighted that the blue-collar side of his team’s persona has been led by its two superstar seniors, especially considering the Vancouver City Championships at Lord Byng Secondary are just two weeks down the road.
“I don’t know how they could step up any more than they already have, but Surprise (Munie) and Shemaiah (Abatayo) are playing out of their minds right now,” enthused Evans.
That much has been apparent each and every week since the TBI, a period which has seen the Bruins win three straight invitational championship tournaments.
At the Burnaby Central-Burnaby South Wildcats-Vikings Invitational, the Notre Dame Jugglers Classic, and most recently at its own Bruins Invitational, Britannia’s respective tournament championship wins came over their tier’s No. 4 St. Thomas More Knights, No. 3 St. Thomas Aquinas Fighting Saints and No. 6 York House Tigers.
“They are showing such great leadership,” continued Evans of point guard Abatayo and combo guard-forward Munie, set to play next season at Trinity Western and Simon Fraser respectively.
“And another great trait I am seeing is that while the other pieces of our group have all continued to improve, those two are not afraid to pass them the ball and keep them involved in what has been going on,” says Evans, whose team opens play Thursday (5 p.m.) at the VGBA Langara Challenge by hosting the Sir Winston Churchill Bulldogs.
In mid-December, Grade 11 guard Jewel Leeson was just beginning to show all of her skills on the senior varsity stage.
Last Saturday, in the final of the Bruins Invitational, the 5-foot-6 long-range shooting Leeson revealed an extra level of tenacity when she grabbed 14 rebounds in Britannia’s win over York House.
“She’s not big, but she reads the situations quite well,” said Evans.
There’s also the team’s evolving front-court fortunes, which have continued to add dimensions through the play of twin senior posts Lagi Vaa and Tiana Sacco.
“Lagi is getting more and more comfortable with using her size to screen people off, and score off lay-ups,” said Evans, who noted Vaa had to hold down the fort until this past weekend when Sacco was able to return on a full-time basis coming back from an injury.
Evans has also been impressed by the grit and return to form of senior guard Laiana Padolina, who suffered a serious knee injury in 10th grade.
“She been struggling since she’s been a younger player and she’s had to wear a knee brace,” said Evans of Padolina, a former provincial team zone player. “There’s been a lot of physio, but she has started to look a lot more comfortable.”
Lord Byng plays at St. Patrick’s (5:30 p.m.), John Oliver hosts Notre Dame (5:30 p.m.) while Point Grey plays at York House (5 p.m.) in the remaining three games on Thursday’s opening-round senior schedule at the VGBA Langara Challenge, an event which also features a junior varsity draw.
Junior varsity (1, 2:30 p.m.) and senior varsity (4, 5:45 p.m.) semifinals will take place at Langara College on Friday.
Saturday’s championship draw runs all day at Lanagara beginning at 9:30 a.m. with the junior final tipping off at 3:45 p.m. and the senior final at 5:30 p.m.
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