Living up to the pre-tournament predictions, the George Elliot Coyotes captured their first Okanagan Valley senior AA boys basketball title in 28 years on the weekend on home court.
Led by tournament MVP, Nic Lafontaine, and a 19-point effort by Bergrin Van Lent in the final, the Lake Country representatives capped a perfect weekend by defeating the Sahali Sabres of Kamloops 78-64 in the championship game on Saturday.
The Valley victory earned the Coyotes their first Okanagan title since 1991, the same year they won their last B.C. School Sports championship.
David Lafontaine, at the helm of the team for the past three years, said the Coyotes have all the elements of a championship team — and it showed in their three impressive wins on the weekend.
“This is an unselfish team with good size, great ball-handling skills, solid Grade 12 leadership and the ability to score in a variety of ways,” said Lafontaine, who is assisted at the bench by his wife Kathy Lafontaine. “As a team we’ve accomplished all our goals thus far this season and have one more to go — finishing in the top five in the province.”
The Coyotes will join 15 other teams — including Sahali and the Westsyde Whundas of Kamloops — at the provincial tournament in Langley March 6-9.
Coming off a 73-66 win over Westsyde in semifinal play on Friday, the Coyotes got off to a relatively slow start against Sahali, trailing 18-11 at the quarter and 37-35 by the half.
Elliot, ahead by two (56-54) after 30 minutes, was sparked by Van Lent’s trio of three-pointers and Khayden Culic’s pair of treys, and went on a 13-point run to cruise to victory.
Nic Lafontaine contributed 17 points in the final to give him 43 for the tournament while Culic — a tournament all-star along with teammate Triston Hearn — added another 16 points.
In semifinal play, the Elliot got a 17-point effort from Lafontaine while Hearn netted 15 to go along with 11 from Culic. Their opening-game 108-41 win over the Kalamalka Lakers of Vernon saw all 13 ’Yotes score at least four points.
The Coyotes, also the Okanagan South league champions, go into the provincial tournament at the Langley Events Centre with a 31-8 record overall and are expected to seeded sixth or seventh when the AA draw is announced on March 3.
FREE THROWS: The 1991 George Elliot senior boys defeated Lambrick Park of Victoria in the B.C. championship game, led by Andre Thomas . . . Thomas, now the owner of the Memphis Blues Restaurants in Kelowna, scored 48 points to offset a 50-point performance by 6’ 10” national junior team player, Brendan Graves, who went on to play for the NCAA Division 1 Santa Clara University Broncos . . . Among the other members of the Elliot starting five was Robere Gingras, now coaching the Vernon Christian School Royals who have qualified for the B.C. senior A championship tournament . . . Chris Lincoln, John Bolton and John Graham rounded out the starting lineup coached by Vince Jarvis and Rick Davidson . . . Current Coyotes coach, David Lafontaine, was a referee in that 1991 final in the packed and loud Lambrick Park gymnasium . . . “The crowd would erupt every time Graves scored,” recalls Lafontaine. “The gym was just shaking and electric — and then Andre would counter to calm things down.”