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High school girls basketball preview: Port Coquitlam's Terry Fox Ravens hungry to succeed

It's been nearly two years since girls high school basketball teams played competitive games. Juniors then are now seniors, and they're hungry to end their high school careers on a winning note.
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Terry Fox Ravens guard Ana-Maria Misic goes for a layup over her Lord Tweedsmuir opponent in their first round game at the Tsumura Basketball Invitational tournament, Thursday at the Langley Events Centre.

The Terry Fox Ravens have been carrying a chip on their shoulders for almost two years. 

The once-upstart team comprised mostly of Grade 10 players lost the 2020 senior provincial championship game to the Semiahmoo Totems by 52 points. 

It was their last competitive game. 

Less than two weeks later the world went into shutdown because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

That’s a long time to carry the burden of such a big loss. 

Those juniors are now seniors, and Ravens’ head coach Mike Carkner says they’re hungry.

“Missing all of last season has galvanized our group with a singular focus — to win the provincial championship,” he said.

To that end, Carkner said his players put in a lot of time in the gym, working individually on skills like shooting three-pointers.

“We are confident everyone on the team can now shoot the three.”

Veteran high school girls basketball coach Paul Langford said nothing can make up for losing a season.

But his die-hard Riverside Rapids’ players who persevered through the uncertainty are champing at the bit to regain their competitive edge ahead of league play in January.

Craig Percevault, coach of the Dr. Charles Best Blue Devils said last year’s lost season was largely a case of out-of-sight-out-of-mind. Several players lost their connection to the game and their teammates, presenting challenges to reinvigorate the program this season.

“It has been tough getting our athletes to buy in and make the commitment to get better,” Percevault said, adding some players he was hoping would play again left the sport altogether.

Ross Tomlinson at Heritage Woods said some girls directed the energy they would have put into basketball toward other pursuits like school work and part-time jobs, or outdoor sports like soccer, softball and tennis that could still be played in relative safety when indoor activities were largely shut down.

Sue Sands said while sports have been a bit of a tough sell at Port Moody Secondary in recent years, she’s encouraged some of her charges took the initiative to find places to play in the community and work on their game when they were shut out of the school gym.

Centennial Centaurs’ coach Stephen Bruyneel said he made sure to keep his girls engaged with COVID-compliant workouts throughout the shutdown to the beginning of this school year.

“That helped a bit,” he said. “But lack of real games has hurt. We really have to keep working on getting into game shape.”

Riverside’s Langford said he feels especially bad for last year’s seniors who were deprived of their opportunity to put a final stamp on their high school careers.

“They will never get that back,” he said.

Bruyneel said he tried to maintain some sense of continuity to Centennial’s program by holding a special senior’s night for last year’s graduating players, while Tomlinson kept players connected with virtual meetings twice a week as well as online skill workouts.

Best’s Percevault said he got a good response to a special basketball skills class he convened during the shutdown that he hopes will translate to the competitive realm this season.

Here’s how the teams measure up:

Centennial Centaurs

With only one senior, Mollee Jones, the Centaurs are young. But with the core of the team comprised of Grade 11 players who finished ninth at the junior provincial championship when they were in Grade 9, Bruyneel is bullish on Centennial’s potential.

“Our strengths are height — we have two posts who are 6’3” — and a couple of players who can drive and shoot threes,” he said, adding the team will rely on old school basketball to run pick-and-rolls, and working the offensive zone inside out through the posts.

Besides Jones, the Centaurs will look to Grade 11 guards Jessica Ng and Alex Austin, as well as posts Blessing Ibekwe, Aylee Maconachie and Amelia Perry to carry the load.

Dr. Charles Best Blue Devils

The Devils enter the season with but one senior on its roster. That means juniors Eloise Herdman, Nisha Parhar and Josefina Rodriguez will have to step up to show the way forward to younger players like Grade 10 point guard and wing Denise Mendoza and Grade 9 forward Jessica Parkinson.

“Our team is athletic,” said head coach Craig Percevault. “We want to get out and run when we can, be able to play in the half court when needed.”

Heritage Woods Kodiaks

Kodiaks’ coach Ross Tomlinson said he’s still getting a handle on the kind of team he has and the style he’ll employ to bring out their best.

Key players will be Haley Hughes, Rebecca Green, Jenny Lee, McKenna Clough, Josie Latifpour, Trinity Wolfe and Kaitlin Mean.

Port Moody Blues

Sue Sands said her crew faces a huge learning curve as younger players shake off the rust and senior players adjust to the pace of competition without the benefit of their Grade 11 season.

As a result, she said, her expectations are realistic, with an emphasis on fun and developing trust on the court.

“We are a fun, love-the-game, want-to-get-into-the game, gritty group,” Sands said. “The love for the sport is there.”

Key players are seniors Hyewon Hwang and Liepa Bajarunas, whose passion and athleticism set a good example for the team’s younger players, including six who are still in Grade 9.

Riverside Rapids

With four seniors led by 5’9” wing Brooke Kendal and 5’10” forward Venica Davignon, Rapids’ coach Paul Langford said a berth in provincials is realistic.

The veterans will be supported by some strong juniors, including 6’2” Natalie Curley, 6’ Nicole Hughes and 5’9” Alexis Hart, as well as talented young guns Avery Sussex and Jorja Hart holding down the back court.

Still, Langford is careful to temper his enthusiasm given the context of the new COVID variant and rising infection numbers.

“COVID is not over, and every game played will be a bonus,” he said.

Terry Fox Ravens

Mike Carkner said his group is driven to succeed.

Not only do they want to make up for their 52-point loss in the 2020 final, they’re also carrying the weight of the loss of one of their beloved teammates, Karin Khuoung, who succumbed to cancer last year.

“It was debilitating, incredibly painful and so sad all at once,” Carkner said. “Our girls have talked about playing this season the way Karin lived her life, with no regrets. We are going to give everything we have on the court to honour Karin.”

To achieve that, Carkner said his players will use speed and aggression to attack opponents in transition and batten down the hatches on defence. On offence, they’ll move the ball quickly and look for success from the three-point arc.

Leadership will come from senior point guard Cerys Merton, who’s already committed to the University of British Columbia for next season.

“She wants to win badly,” said Carkner about the team captain. “Cerys will rise up when it matters most.”

Supporting her will be key players, shooting guard Lauren Clements and Taylor Matthews, who bring speed and power to both ends of the court.