After months of preparation, the Senior boys basketball team traveled to Langley for the BC AA Tournament. Qualifying had been the group’s initial goal from the start of practices back in November. Yet, such were expectations after a 30-win season, anything less than capturing the title was going to be a bitter disappointment.
Indeed, fresh off a thrilling 74-72 win over local rival Lambrick Park in the Island final 10 days earlier, SMUS entered the provincials as the #1 seed and a definite favourite to reach the championship game.
Of course, Lambrick Park was also expected to move through its side of the draw and so set up what would be the seventh meeting between the two teams this season.
As anticipated, SMUS moved smartly through its first three games, against Mt. Elizabeth (Kitimat), Clarence Fulton (Vernon) and Valleyview (Kamloops), in surprisingly comfortable fashion. Smothering defense and a balanced attack keyed each of the wins. Lambrick Park showed equally dominant form and served notice it would be a particularly formidable opponent after absolutely crushing RC Palmer 106-58 in a semi-final rated by the oddsmakers beforehand as a toss-up.
And so it was on to the championship final. After the pregame festivities at the Langley Events Centre, more excellent Blue Jags defense spearheaded a solid start and a 16-10 first quarter SMUS lead. Max Pollen dogged the Lions’ star point guard Ismail Abdulahi, while Jason Scully and Jordan Lane kick started the Blue Jags offence with some strong drives to the hoop.
In retrospect, in some ways the second quarter proved to be SMUS’ ultimate downfall. Though notching another 16 points, a good number of high-percentage shots missed the mark, with the Blue Jags compounding the situation with some uncharacteristic defensive errors. Though still leading 32-30 at intermission, the margin could so easily have been double figures.
The third period was also costly. Lambrick Park’s 6’10” centre Matt Neufeld became a growing force at both ends of the floor while a steady stream of fouls assessed against SMUS ensured the game never had any kind of rhythm. A 17-4 Lions’ run saw them up 47-36, and this advantage then extended to 64-47 with just over six minutes to play.
In one last desperate stand, SMUS switched to a trapping zone press, which yielded some dividends. Yet, inevitably, time ran out as Lambrick Park held on for a deserved and well-earned 70-64 victory.
Jason Scully, recording a 20 and 14 “double-double”, led the way for SMUS, with Jake Wilmott (13), Danny Wu (12) and Graeme Hyde-Lay (9) also contributing to the scoring. Scully and Hyde-Lay were both named to the tournament All-Star team.
Despite the disappointing final result and sombre post-game reflections, it has been a wonderful and successful season. Without question, the team as a whole improved significantly. Seniors Wu, Lane, Matt Rud, Liam Keeler-Young and Matt Brien led by example throughout. Rud enjoyed a particularly stellar year, catching the eye of several university programs before going on to sign at Simon Fraser to continue his career at the post-secondary level.
Fully eight Grade 11 students will return for 2014-2015, while a number of others will look to make the jump up from this year’s developmental squad. And so it is highly likely that SMUS will start the 2014-2015 season once again the top-ranked AA school in BC. With this will come another chance to secure a provincial championship banner!