A long and demanding school basketball season came to a conclusion over the past weekends, with some thrills and fantastic performances. There were also regrets, as some close calls put paid to several glorious opportunities.
First up, on March 3-5, SMUS hosted the BC Junior Boys Tournament, with 16 teams from all across the province descending on the school for three days of intense and exciting action.
Seeded #4, SMUS opened up with a 58-33 over Prince George’s Duchess Park, before getting in to the meat of the tournament with a quarter-final matchup vs powerful Kitsilano.
In this game, played in front of a packed and passionate home crowd, SMUS slipped behind 12-2 to start, before clawing back into contention. Some stellar second quarter defence, and 8 points from Dawit Workie further calmed nerves, with SMUS in front 24-19 at intermission. More of the same followed in the second half, with the Blue Demons never closer than three in what finished a 51-41 Blue Jags victory.
This win was merely the appetizer for a thrilling semifinal hours later versus McMath. The Wildcats 3-2 zone completely stymied SMUS, and, when the visitors took a 34-27 lead early in the fourth quarter, the tension was palpable. Then, tournament All-Star Georgios Ikonomou took over, hitting three trifectas under maximum pressure to allow SMUS a 40-36 lead with only a minute to play.
However, some panic and poor decision making gifted McMath two hoops, leaving the game tied at 40. In a gripping finish, Mark Yorath hit the winning hoop on a twisting layup with 1.9 seconds to play. Even then the drama was not complete, as McMath’s Rajiv Dhaliwal still had time to get off a long three pointer which hit back iron, bounced away and saw the SMUS student body in attendance then storm the floor in jubilation.
On the other side of the draw, tournament co favourite White Rock Christian, featuring a bruising trio of 6’4″ forwards, was mowing down all in front of them. Indeed, it appeared to most observers that SMUS would have little chance of competing on even terms in the final.
The championship game tipped off in front of an overflow crowd of 1100, in an absolutely electric atmosphere. Though dwarfed physically, SMUS hung tough in the opening half, using its trademark defence and several inside hoops by Steve Whillans to take a 24-17 half-time lead.
Then the momentum shifted. A fatally bad SMUS start to the third quarter allowed WRCA to even the score at 26 almost immediately, and this swing continued as the Warriors, dominating the backboards at both ends, led 40-36 early in the final frame. Yet, treys from Ikonomou and Workie righted the SMUS ship at crucial moments, with the game tied at 44, 46 and 48.
Then came the key moment. Down 50-48, SMUS missed a wide open three to take the lead. With 30 seconds to play, and now down 51-48, the Blue Jags had one last chance to score. Unfortunately, an unnecessarily rushed drive resulted only in a turnover, with the subsequent free throws from WRCA extending the lead. 51-48 became 55-48 and no way back. A deep Yorath bomb at the buzzer only made the final scoreline closer.
The capacity crowd rose en masse to salute both teams for their efforts in what had been a scintillating final game. Congratulations to SMUS, with all the players producing a wonderful performance under the most intense pressure.
From the high of the BC Junior tournament, thoughts then quickly turned to the following week, with the Grade 8 Boys, Grade 9 Boys, Senior Boys and Senior Girls all on the mainland to contest their own provincial events.
The Grade 8s, seeded 5th, opened play in Pitt Meadows vs Sahali, a team SMUS had defeated easily six weeks ago. This time round proved to be a much more difficult proposition, with the Kamloops based Sabres staying close and even enjoying a two point lead at the half. Thankfully, some order was restored after the break, with SMUS winning 41-35.
This put the team in to the quarter-final vs Burnaby South. Unfortunately, the combination of a slick opposition point guard, burly 6’3″ post player and a very hesitant zone attack left SMUS 29-10 in arrears after two quarters. The team played better after intermission, but was unable to make any real dent in the 19 point deficit.
Disappointed, the team bounced back with a better performance later in the day against Pacific Academy, winning 45-31 behind a more coordinated zone attack and improved outside shooting. In its final game vs West Vancouver, SMUS fell behind by 14 points mid way through the third quarter before roaring back to draw level at 48-48. However, a layup and free throws saw the Highlanders win 54-48 and claim 5th position, with SMUS ending up one place lower.
Jack Sherrod enjoyed a solid tournament, having to battle inside against huge opponents. Certainly, the size disparity faced by SMUS in each of the four games was significant, while executing effectively against zone defences (which were not allowed in local play) proved problematic.
Nonetheless, the team enjoyed a fine season under the able tutelage of coaches Cyril Indome and Greg Wallis. All the players improved considerably, with Jason Scully, Max Pollen and Graeme Hyde-Lay just three who should feature prominently in SMUS hoops in upcoming seasons.
The Grade 9 Boys, competing in Coquitlam, also as the #5 seed, stumbled slightly coming out of the gate, conceding a rash of fourth quarter points to fall 58-57 to Rutland in opening round play. Happily, the team bounced back the next day to defeat JN Burnett 57-41, with Danny Wu scoring a season high 25 points. Then, in an excellent game versus Charles Tupper, SMUS lost 55-53, having made a fine comeback only to commit a last second turnover which led to the deciding hoop. Matt Rud and Jordan Lane gave fine all round performances, while the loss of Michael Baart to an ankle injury was keenly felt, particularly in the rebounding department.
The season finale was not memorable, with the team lacking inspiration in losing to Island rival Wellington. Still, there was some consolation in Rud and Wu combining to win the tournament 2Ball shooting challenge.
In short, while ending up 12th, the team looked back on two losses by a combined three points, and competitive outings during the year against both St. Georges and Vancouver College, who showed to be clearly the class of the BC Tournament. So, while there is lots of work to be done, there is every indication that SMUS can be an Island qualifier for the Grade 10 provincials a year from now.
The Senior Boys, ironically also seeded #5, opened their BC Tournament in Kamloops vs Clarence Fulton. A blistering start by Mitch Wiggins, who nailed six first-half treys, and an otherwise solid team effort, produced a comfortable 72-57 victory. This set up a quarter-final contest vs Mission, the hard working but otherwise quite ordinary Fraser Valley champions.
In what will go down as one of the most disappointing SMUS defeats in the last twenty years, the team failed to capitalize on a sterling defensive effort. Instead, a nightmarish offensive start, with the team scoreless for the opening eight minutes, set the tone for a 7-33 effort from the three point line, and a final total of only 47 points.
Two late threes and two FTs by Derek Hyde-Lay brought SMUS back one last time from a 13 point deficit to 49-47, but two subsequent turnovers and panicky fouls proved to much to overcome.
Bouncing back the next day was always going to be a tough assignment, and so it proved. An equally disappointed Sahali, losers to Brentwood the night before, was the opponent, and this time scoring was not the issue for either team. 29 points from Wiggins led the offence, but, when a last second Dawit Workie layup attempt spun out, SMUS faced overtime and what became an 87-85 defeat.
In the last game of the season against Delview a positive start was soon undermined by more wayward shooting, with SMUS trailing by five to ten points throughout. A desperate late flurry, spurred by graduating seniors Wiggins and Connor Eden, did bring the game back to 64-61, but a turnover in the final seconds ensured there would be no chance of overtime.
With the loss, and thanks to an archaic BC AA system in which a first-round winner can then finish behind a first-round loser, SMUS placed 10th. The quarterfinal loss to Mission will rankle for some time, as missed opportunities never come back.
Lastly, the Senior Girls, also in Kamloops at the AA Tournament, split their four games. In a very winnable opener versus Nechako Valley, the team squandered a hard earned 29-21 lead with some third quarter errors, and then hit an ice cold patch on offence to lose 48-42. Annie Pike enjoyed the first of what would be four solid games, but received little other support.
Game 2 produced a straightforward 61-44 victory over host Kalamalka before SMUS, benefitting somewhat from a scoretable error in its favour, capitalized on a last second Abbey Piazza free throw to upend favoured Windsor 61-60 in overtime.
In the last game, erratic offence was again an issue, with a 16 point third quarter lead evaporating and another solid defensive effort going to waste in a 52-50 defeat to Seycove. This result placed SMUS 9th overall.
While seniors Pike and Cliona Quail-Bradley completed their high school hoop careers, the 2011-2012 season looks bright, with five key Grade 10s moving into their junior year.
All in all, given three Island titles and five teams at BCs for the first time in school history, the season was a success. Still, a handful of disappointing provincial results coloured somewhat the final two weeks, with more work still to be done in the future to put SMUS consistently in the medal rounds.