The Tier 1 North division of the Fraser Valley Senior Girls Basketball Association is growing up. Four of the division’s five teams will be putting on the court lineups heavy with experienced seniors. That’s raising expectations.
In fact, two teams — Riverside and Heritage Woods — enter the season ranked fifth and eighth provincially.
Last year, only the Kodiaks finished the regular season amongst the top ten but then had the misfortune of drawing the eventual provincial champions, Kelowna Owls, in their first round match at the provincial championship tournament in Langley. Riverside rose from its honourable mention status in the final regular season poll to finish sixth at the tournament.
It should make for a competitive season where the rewards will be reaped by teams that can stay healthy and best develop their up-and-comers.
(The Tri-Cities also have two teams playing in Tier 2 this season, the Gleneagle Talons and the Port Moody Blues; their coaches did not respond by The Tri-City News’ deadline)
A solid core of seven seniors, along with a strong supporting cast of four juniors and one player from Grade 10 have the Riverside Rapids ranked fifth in the province heading into the girls basketball season.
Returning starters include guard Jessica Parker who’s already committed to play at the University of the Fraser Valley next year.
Rapids coach Paul Langford said Parker plays “with no fear,” who can score from the inside or from the perimeter.
Other familiar faces on the gleaming hardwood at the Port Coquitlam school will be: Tessa Burton, a Grade 12 small forward who can shoot three pointers and defend them as well; Alanya Davignon, another senior whose versatility and defensive tenacity will draw her against the top players from opposing players; Adrienne Willems, a Grade 12 post with a knack for rebounding; and Sammy Shields, who debuted for the senior Rapids last season when she was just in Grade 9 because of her great passing and prolific touch from beyond the 3-point arc.
They’ll be supplemented by newcomers Alexa Kinnaird, a 5’10” post in Grade 11 who Langford said he’ll be looking to improve the team’s rebounding, as well as Katia Tarry, another junior who will come off the bench to sink buckets.
Langford said he’s excited about the team’s mix to get them beyond last year’s sixth-place finish at provincials.
“We will play up-tempo and look to pressure the ball,” he said.
The Kodiaks star player, Hailey Counsell, has graduated to the University of British Columbia, but coach Ross Tomlinson is confident his hard working squad gained some valuable experience in last year’s provincials where they were able to split their four games.
They’ll be drawing on that experience early, as four of the team’s top six players will start the season injured and point guard Jenna Griffin is still working her way back up to speed following knee surgery last February.
“We will develop our supporting players and try and integrate the injured players as they gradually return,” Tomlinson said.
The work ethic Counsell brought to the Kodiaks will be carried on by her younger sister, Maddy, a Grade 11 guard who’s also a member of the U17 provincial team. Tomlinson said she’s an “excellent defensive player” who plays with tremendous energy and has a knack for getting to the basket.
Returning seniors include: Emily Instant, a centre and power forward with good skills around the basket; Breona Martin, another U17 provincial player who can dominate the lane with her physical skills; Rachael Tomlinson, a hard-nosed defender who battles for every possession of the ball; Paige Gant, a power forward and gritty rebounder; and guard Heidi Mueckel, a tough defender who attacks the basket well.
The Centaurs will have a lot of familiar faces on the court as the team returns eight veterans from last season.
They’re lead by Grace Killins, who recently committed to Simon Fraser University for next season where Clan coach Bruce Langford praised her touch for scoring three-pointers.
“Her competitiveness on offence and defence are always on display,” he said.
Supporting Killins will be Daniella Iacobucci, Kate Bennett, Dahlia Parolin and Sarah Smith.
Centaurs coach Lucian Sauciuc said he will also look to Grade 10 starting point guard Opeyemi Balogun to take a big step forward in her progression after she spent the summer playing for elite Venue Kings program that travelled to tournaments in Arizona, Oregon and California.
“The Centaurs will be a competitive team in the uber competitive Fraser Valley this season,” Sauciuc said. “The team possesses good size at all positions and will look to build on last year’s experience.”
Dr. Charles Best
Daniel Depeltau, who also coaches the Blue Devils’ boys team, said he has high expectations for his senior girls squad that lost only one player — Dana Shier — to graduation. He said his mélange of seniors and juniors may not be “the most talented team in the league, but we will be relentless.”
And ready to execute a few surprises, he added. “We are definite underdogs.”
Nikki Cabuco, who’s headed to the University of the Fraser Valley next year, is the team’s leader, Depeltau said, calling her their “soul” and “identity.” She’ll also be taking on a more versatile role with the emergence of Grade 11 point guard Paige Lidiard, who will be able to spell off Cabuco at the position so the senior can act as a shooting guard.
Grade 10 power forward Jessica Nonis will also contribute rebounds and points from the paints.
But mostly, Depeltau said, the Blue Devils will earn any success collectively through hard work.
“We try and have high-tempo practice to replicate the style of play we need to be at to challenge very talented teams,” he said.
The Ravens will be without last year’s senior athlete of the year, JV Patry-Smith, who’s graduated to a track scholarship at UBC. That will leave it to senior forwards Taylor Fridge and Megan Dalla Zanna to pull on the leadership cloak for a team comprised mostly of juniors and sophomores.
But co-coach Kelly Fridge said what her charges lack in experience they’ll make up with athleticism.
“Balance is the first word that comes to mind,” said Fridge, who helms the team with Kevin Estabrooks. “We are fortunate enough to have a number of players who are multisport athletes to bring a special element.”
Among them are Grade 11 guard Emily Matsui, who just finished her season with the Ravens senior volleyball team, plays club volleyball as well as community hockey.
“Her athleticism and skill will maker her a dominant force on offence,” Fridge said.
Mari Reyes and Chelan Slater are stepping up to the senior team from the junior program and Fridge said they’ll be bringing with them outside shooting and game smarts.
The Ravens will also feature a bit of international flavour with twin sisters Irene and Laura Santamaria joining the team from Spain.
Fridge said they will be integral contributors to the team’s offence.