Westwind Weekly News
Southern Alberta will be well represented at the ASAA 4A girls basketball provincials this weekend in Medicine Hat.
Raymond enters as the zone’s top seed, as Comets secured the 4A zone championship with a 70-54 win Saturday at the University of Lethbridge over the Magrath Pandas.
The Comets led 43-18 at the half, and cruised to the championship, as Kansas Long set the pace for Raymond with 25 points. Halli Baker added 15 and Ivy Jensen connected for 11.
Lucy Wilde replied with 18 for Magrath, and Adi Strong had 16.
“They are a very good team and we knew coming in, following a recent loss to them, that we needed to shore up our defense,” said Comets coach Robert Baker about his team’s solid start.
“We practised hard on ways we thought counter their offense, and that worked out very well for us Saturday. Our girls played intense defense, which was our focus, doing their best to challenge shots and box out so second opportunities weren’t allowed.”
The shots were also falling for Raymond, thanks to a team-centred approach to offence..
“On the offensive side of the ball, we have always tried to focus on team offense,” said Baker. “We encourage the girls to make that one extra pass, to give up a good shot for a better one, and they did that well, I thought. I felt like our girls were looking for the better opportunities and it paid off. Hitting some shots early in the game seemed to give our girls confidence.”
It all went according to plan for the top-ranked Comets, as Raymond earned a first-round bye in zones. The team only needed one win to advance to the championship, as Raymond defeated Cardston 70-55 on Thursday. Lyvia Jensen had 21 to lead Raymond, as Gracie Heggie added 19 and Long hit for 14.
“Against Cardston, we also focused on defense and making sure their girls didn’t get a lot of open, uncontested shots,” said Baker. “Again, we focused on helping on defense and doing our best to keep them off the boards. We aren’t a very big team, so it takes all of them to make it work.”
The coach added his team’s late-season struggles were wiped away with a strong showing at zones.
“As far as finishing first in the league, we thought we had blown it the last week of play when we lost three tough ones, but there was a three-way tie and because of records against other common opponents, we finished first,” said Baker.
“We are no different than other teams, in that we have girls hurting at the end of a long season and the bye for us was helpful to heal, so finishing first was big for us. It may have made us a bit more rested than other teams as we played one less game.”
Magrath’s path to the final was much tougher, as the Pandas needed a 67-64 win over LCI in Thursday afternoon’s semifinal to advance. Lucy Wilde led Magrath with 15, Strong had 14 and Ellie Wilde added 12.
In Magrath’s opening game last Wednesday, the Pandas earned a 73-47 win over Catholic Central. Wilde led the way with 20, Strong had 15, and Elley Johnson (12) and Jenna Taylor (11) rounded out the scoring.
Both Raymond and Magrath now prepare for provincials, as the Comets enter as the No. 4 seed and the Pandas are No. 6. The teams will not meet again this season, unless both squads advance to the provincial final.
The Comets open play today at 4 p.m. in the West Gym at Medicine Hat High School, as Raymond will face No. 13 Chestermere. A win in that game will push the Comets to Friday’s 9 a.m. game, against the winner of Jasper Place (5) and Medicine Hat (12).
“Heading into provincials, we know very little about Chestermere,” said Baker. “I do know that they are a quality team and that they score a lot of points. We are doing our best to prepare for a team that we assume will shoot well and push the ball up the floor. We anticipate a quality opponent who are well coached and know we will have to be at our best to defeat them. One thing for sure, we aren’t assuming anything will be easy just because of seedings.”
As for the rest of the tournament field, Baker added a potential match up with Jasper Place should be an extremely competitive game.
“Should we advance and see Jasper Place, we have played them twice this year and split games with them. They are so well coached and so talented. Again, we will have to play our best to contend against them, but we can do it. We don’t know much about Centennial, but they must be a very good team to have won the city of Calgary and knock off Bishop Carroll in the process.”
For Baker and his team, the 2018 provincials marks an important opportunity for a group that has been together for half a decade.
“I have coached the Grade 12 girls for five of the last six years and have grown very close to them, so it is exciting to see them continue to play so well together,” said Baker. “They were able to fight back from adversity and see the losses at the end of the year as a time to grow and improve. They believed they could be better and worked hard to make it happen, and I couldn’t be proud of the entire group.”
He added everyone involved in the team realizes the importance of the task at hand.
“I keep telling them to enjoy this opportunity. Many girls never get to have it. They are a great group and continue to work hard. They want to do well and I hope we play our best. What else can we ask for?”
Magrath opens play today at 6 p.m., also in the MHHS West Gym, against No. 11 St. Mary’s. A win will put the Pandas in Friday’s 11 a.m. contest against the Bishop Carroll (3)/Lindsay Thurber (14) winner.
Semifinals are set for Friday at 5 p.m. on the Pandas side of the draw, and Friday at 3 p.m. on the Comets side of the draw.
The championship game is Saturday at 6 p.m.