“It’s a season-long burden off our backs.”
After literally sneaking into the provincial tournament in 2013 with a young core, and surprising (OK dominating) their way to Alberta’s final two, the Raymond Comets had only one goal in mind this year.
Win it all, or bust.
Sure, no one from the season’s outset was publicly saying that anything less than a provincial title would be a major disappointment, but head coach Jentry Salmon was pretty much thinking it.
“We were so close last year; we had a sniff but not a taste,” he said Tuesday, three days after his team won all four of its games over the weekend en route to a provincial championship. “We felt all along there was no reason we shouldn’t be there at the end again.”
With returning players galore and some of Alberta’s elite talent, there really weren’t many excuses for the Comets not to win — except for one. The Chinook Coyotes.
Ranked No. 1 in the province since day one, the Yotes had only lost one game all season long — albeit to Raymond in a winner-takes-the-regular-season-title game — and had already bested the Comets twice, including the South Zone finals just one week before provincials.
Each team won its way to Saturday’s 4A provincial championship with relative ease, setting up the final everyone expected to see. Salmon and his team had been disappointed with the zone finals loss but knew going in that winning the South doesn’t remotely compare to winning Alberta.
And, since Chinook had somewhat switched up its style in order to beat Raymond the week before, Salmon felt his team had a bit of an advantage.
“The good thing about zones is we could make adjustments to how they were playing us and do some things they hadn’t seen,” said Salmon.
It definitely worked in the first half of Saturday’s final, because after a back-and-forth start, Raymond surged in a big way in the second quarter.
“It was neck and neck at first,” he said. “But then we jumped out on a huge run to finish the half up 32-17.”
And it’s a good thing they did because Chinook made some adjustments of its own for the second half and took the game right down to the wire.
“We went on a six- or seven-minute drought in the third quarter where we didn’t even score a single point,” Salmon said. “And then in the fourth (quarter) they were really good and we just couldn’t score anymore.”
Things got pretty dicey as Chinook actually worked back to within one point. When a team steals momentum to that level, it can often be inevitable that it wins the game, but the Comets dug down deep and found just enough to hold the Coyotes off and win, 61-55.
“Instead of rolling over and letting Chinook take it, our girls did what they had to and were able to pull it out,” said Salmon. “It’s real hard to play with a lead in a game like that. Credit to Chinook, they’re a great team; No. 1 all year long, so we weren’t surprised to see them come back on us.”
Nonetheless, as Salmon said himself, no one is going to look back on this season and remember a near-collapse. The only memory that will remain will go quite nicely with the 2014 provincial banner that will soon hang in the Raymond High School Gymnasium.
“The girls really wanted this, and they deserved this,” Salmon said. “The University (of Lethbridge) was packed on both sides and the fans were fantastic. We felt like our whole community was there behind us. It was just incredible for our town to get together like that.
“It was fun to be a part of that.”
Winning always is.