WESTLOCK – St. Mary School’s (SMS) senior boys and R.F. Staples School’s (RFS) senior girls basketball teams may not have come home with provincial titles, but both proved they can stand toe-to-toe with the best in Alberta and served notice that they’ll be back in 2024.
Fresh off their respective North Central 1A and 3A zone championships last weekend, the Sharks and T-Birds both headed south March 16-18, with SMS at 1A Alberta Schools' Athletic Association Boys Basketball Championship in Coaldale and RFS in Wetaskiwin for the 3A Alberta Schools' Athletic Association Girls Basketball Championship.
This was the second-straight trip to the provincials for the Sharks, who failed to net a win at the 2022 event, and they entered the 12-team tourney as the seventh seed. Things didn’t start well for the club as they were spanked 106-62 in the Thursday-afternoon opener by the 10th-ranked Clear Water Academy Crusaders, who eventually lost 111-61 to the defending provincial champs, the Coaldale Christian School Titans, in the gold-medal game.
While the loss dropped the Sharks to the ‘C’ pool, they were able to regain their footing and score a hard-fought 77-74 victory over the 11th-ranked E.H. Walter School Trojans Friday afternoon. In their final game of the season, played 24 hours later, the Sharks simply ran out of gas and were doubled 86-43 by the eighth-ranked Worsley Central School Wildcats.
“From start to finish it was a fantastic experience as Coaldale Christian School put on a great event. And coming out with a victory, against some really tough competition, was definitely a big deal for us,” said head coach Ty Snell. “Our team was maybe a bit undersized, so we knew it was going to be tough. But we fought every game from start to finish and played as hard as we could.”
Looking forward to next year, the Sharks will lose three Grade 12s, while three Grade 11s and five Grade 10s will return. Snell, who was in his first season as head coach, also took time to wish his seniors the best and thank the sponsors and parents for their continued support of the program.
“I think the young guys learned a lot from our Grade 12s this year and with this being our second-straight trip to provincials, we’re just that much more experienced and we’re definitely looking forward to getting back there again,” said Snell, who also confirmed that he’ll back behind the bench for the 2023-2024 campaign.
T-Birds serve notice
Although the T-Birds were making their first appearance at provincials in more than a generation, they showed they belonged right from the opening tip-off.
The girls went into the 12-team tournament as the eighth-seed and scored a dramatic 55-52 victory over the ninth-ranked Monsignor McCoy High School Colts out of Medicine Hat Thursday morning.
So, that was the good news. The bad news was that their next opponent later that same day was the Strathmore High School Spartans, who were the No. 1 ranked team in the province.
And while the T-Birds fought tooth-and-nail, the Spartans were just too much and went on to post a 73-55 win and eventually claim the provincial title with a 75-45 win over the Strathcona Christian Academy Eagles late Saturday.
“And they were like a buzz saw. I’ve never seen a girls team shoot the three-ball as well as they did,” said T-Birds head coach Wade Hicks. “They came out and literally smacked us in the mouth. But we were able to get our bearings and played them pretty tough.”
The defeat dropped the girls to the ‘B’ pool where they rebounded with a gritty 43-38 victory over the fourth-ranked George MacDougall High School Mustangs on Friday afternoon. In their final game of the year, played Saturday morning, the girls gave it their all but dropped a 57-31 decision to the Winston Churchill High School Griffins, who were the sixth-ranked team in the province.
Looking back on the weekend and the year, Hicks couldn’t have been prouder of his club and said he was “ecstatic with how we did.” The girls went 16-11 over the year and claimed three tournament titles, including the zone banner.
“Our team was really good this year and this past weekend was a chance for them to show it,” he said. “It was a fantastic season. This was a fun group to coach and they responded well to pressure. I never felt at any time that we were out of a game as they always fought and worked hard.”
Heading into next year, the T-Birds will lose six Grade 12s, but have seven “really solid” girls that will be back, not including those moving up from the JV squad. And work has already started as the day after provincials ended, Hicks was back on the floor holding tryouts for club basketball.
“All the girls leaving will be tough to replace, but I think we’re looking good for next year. I don’t think we’ll be rebuilding, we’ll just be reloading,” said Hicks. “And the nice thing with the seven who’ll be returning is that they’re going to want to go back to provincials, so I’m almost expecting a little different mindset to start next season.”