Island’s top girls basketball teams begin chase for provincial titles

They enter the Telus B.C. High School Basketball Championships as the No. 12 seed in the double-A senior girls’ competition, but like the matchup.

Coach Lindsay Brooke’s St. Michaels University School Blue Jags will face No. 5 Vernon at noon today on the South Court of the Langley Events Centre.

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Pacific Christian Academy is the highest-ranked Island team at No. 8 and will tackle G.W. Graham at 8:30 a.m., with No. 11 Ballenas hitting the floor at 3:30 p.m. against No. 6 Nechako Valley of Vanderhoof.

“We’re the wild-card winner so No 12 was as good a seed that SMUS could have hoped for. It’s a good matchup, though,” said Brooke. “The top four are really a cut above — No. 5 through the rest.”

So the goal is obvious.

“Steal the first one and see where it goes,” said Brooke, whose Blue Jags would then likely face No. 4 St. Thomas More in the quarter-finals, should SMUS get through. “The first one is critical, win that one and everything else is gravy.”

Should PCS — which enjoyed an excellent season — advance, the Victoria team would have No. 1 Duchess Park of Prince George on its side of the draw and should Ballenas upset, the next target would be No. 3 Seacove.

“We’re really happy with our year, it’s a great group of girls with loads of seniors so it’s great for them to get to B.C.’s in their Grade 12 year,” Brooke said of SMUS, which features seven seniors, led by guards Aveen Glen and Mia Roberts.

The senior girls triple-A tournament also tips off today with the Oak Bay Breakers entering as the No. 5 seed and facing No. 12 Gleneagle on centre court at 8:30 p.m. The Claremont Spartans are No. 9 and should face a good battle in No. 8 Charles Best at 1:45 p.m. in the 16-team field.

Defending champion Brookswood (which opens against North Peace) is seeded No. 1 and would be Claremont’s next opponent should the Spartans advance.

With a win, Oak Bay would face the winner of No. 4 Kelowna and No. 1 Panorama Ridge.

Unlike SMUS, the Breakers have just two Grade 12s on the roster in Jamie Fulcher and Hina Yamashita, but the young Island-champion team is loaded with talent

“It’s been a quick, steep learning curve, but I have really dedicated girls and phenomenal younger athletes,” said coach Rob Kinnear, who throws Grade 10s Natalie Froese, Jasmine Lambert and six-foot-two Georgia Alexander on the floor without hesitation.

The Breakers feature tremendous size and are led by Grade 11 Sophie de Goede, considered one of the best basketball players in the province.

Oak Bay finished third in B.C. last season, second in 2014 and third in 2013.

“I don’t have a singular height of a [Lauren] Yearwood, but overall it’s probably the biggest team I’ve ever coached,” said Kinnear, referring to former standout Lauren Yearwood, who is now with the University of Oregon Ducks.

“There’s always that thought in the back of your mind that you never know what’s going to happen. So far, we took our lumps early and built up as we’ve gone along,” Kinnear said of facing some mainland opponents. “We took our lumps in a lot of those bigger tournaments early, which has been good for us.

“Our results have got progressively better. A lot of those veteran-laden teams don’t peak early, but they’re pretty close to their ceiling. With us, with the younger team and the multi-sport athletes we have, we get a bit of a later start. Our fortunes have risen quicker than say some of those mainland teams.”

mannicchiarico@timescolonist.com

Twitter.com/tc_vicsports

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