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Junior T-Birds capture gold at 3J zone championship

Junior high girls battle to sixth at March 3-4 tourney

WESTLOCK — It’s been a while, but R.F. Staples School’s (RFS) junior high boys are again top of the heap, winning not only the North Central 3J Zone Championship, but claiming the Pembina Hills regional title as well. 

Hosted at RFS March 3-4, the 3J tournament featured junior high teams from Morinville, Athabasca, Barrhead, Edson, Drayton Valley, Slave Lake, and Whitecourt, with the RFS boys taking gold for the first time 2017 and the girls finishing sixth — for the record Parkland Pacers (Edson) wound up winning the girls side of the draw.

After receiving a bye in their first game, the T-Birds scored a dramatic 60-57 OT win over Athabasca’s Edwin Parr Composite School Predators that propelled them to the final versus the Parkland Pacers from Edson. Although the teams traded buckets early, a clutch three-pointer just before the half-time buzzer put the T-Birds up to stay.

“That was huge,” said coach Jessica Stevens on the three-pointer. “They worked so hard … they’ve been working all year and they definitely battled. These guys made their shots, they boxed out and did a good job defensively.”

The zone championship topped off an incredibly successful season for the boys that included a gold medal at the Pembina Hills Public School (PHPS) Division 1 Regional Basketball Tournament Feb. 23 at the Rotary Spirit Centre — the boys won both their games at the one-day tournament and bested Barrhead Composite High School (BCHS) 51-30 in the final. 

“The boys played hard and wanted it. They were a little slow in their first game and then realized what they needed to work on for the next one,” said Stevens. “They brought more energy and more determination to go for that gold.”  

Ultimately the club’s success at both of these events means good things for not only the junior high program, but the graduating Grade 9 players heading on to senior high.

“All these Grade 9s are really going to help our senior team out. And we have a really strong group of Grade 8s that’ll be back next year so we got a really strong program going forward,” she said.

Girls sixth at zone; silver at regionals

Despite losing their opening game at the zones to BCHS that dropped them the consolation side of the draw, the junior girls had a decent weekend.

Following, they posted a decisive 31-12 victory over Drayton Valley’s Frank Maddock High School before falling 52-43 to the Hilltop Chargers in the consolation final.

Coach Melissa Hittinger said the loss to the junior Gryphons was tough as mounting injuries took their toll as they had previously beaten Barrhead in league play as well as at regionals, an event where they earned a silver medal after falling 42-32 to Neerlandia in the final. 

That said, Hittinger and assistant coach Liz MacLean, were proud of the progress the girls made throughout the season and their silver medal, noting they started with 35 players and spread them out over two teams.

“They’ve done a really great job this year. They’ve come so far and they’ve adapted the skills they developed in other sports. It’s great to see that interest in basketball coming back,” said Hittinger. “It’s about the effort. They played their game, they played as a team and everything clicked together, and that’s a pretty neat thing to watch.”

Kristine Jean,

Kristine Jean

About the Author: Kristine Jean

Kristine Jean joined the Westlock News as a reporter in February 2022. She has worked as a multimedia journalist for several publications in Ontario, Saskatchewan and Alberta, and enjoys covering community news, breaking news, sports and arts.
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