Taking a page from their opponents’ long history of success, the Okanagan Mission Huskies rewrote their own with an Okanagan Valley junior boys basketball championship performance on the weekend.
For the first time since 1981, the Huskies claimed the Valley pennant by defeating the favoured Kelowna Owls 46-41 in the title match at Kelowna Secondary School.
The Huskies, ranked as an honourable mention in provincial rankings going into the eight-team Valley tournament, will be the No. 1 seed from the zone at the B.C. provincial invitational basketball tournament being held in Langley beginning on Saturday. The Owls, seeded No. 2 in the province and undefeated in league play prior to the past weekend’s tournament, will join the Huskies, the Salmon Arm Gold and the Sahali Sabres of Kamloops in the four-day event at the Langley Events Centre.
In a surprising Okanagan title game at Kelowna Secondary School, OKM clawed back from an early 11-point deficit and then held the Owls to just seven points in the final quarter to pull off the upset.
“Our defensive intensity — forcing many turnovers and transitioning them into scoring opportunities — was the difference,” said Huskies coach Austin Ross, whose team (21-4 overall) had lost to the Owls in two previous meetings, including the Central Okanagan championship (58-39) a week earlier. “The guys played with confidence and played much more aggressively than they had all season by attacking the hoop and making some tough shots while drawing fouls.”
Cam Parker, chosen the most valuable player in the Valley tournament, led the charge in the well-balanced Huskies attack, scoring 14 points while Okanagan all-star, Brandon Nemes, matched that total for the winners.
Ben Jacques and Kaden Kiewitz both came through with “huge games”, coming off the bench, mostly in a defensive role, and helping the Huskies seal the deal in the fourth quarter.
OKM had earned a berth in the final by defeating the Vernon Panthers 63-53, led again by Nemes and Parker with their 18 and 17 points respectively. Favian Reyes Perez and Tobin Woodworth were stellar defensively while Hunter Wallouch played a ton of minutes and controlled the boards.
In their Valley opener, the Huskies downed the Valleyview Vikes of Kamloops 56-45, with Dawsen Powley being selected as the player of the game for his defensive prowess and rebounding. Perez was outstanding off the bench, Matyas Gerloczy was a steady presence throughout, and Jasper Walker gave his team a significant boost on his return from injury.
Meanwhile, the Owls, first-place finishers in the Central Okanagan regular season, got to the Valley final against the Huskies by defeating Sahali and Salmon Arm.
Like Owls at both the junior and senior level throughout the years, it was the Huskies’s defence, depth and up-tempo game that won the day and that will be a key to success against the top teams in the province at the Langley Events Centre.
“Yes, this is a deep team that likes to force opponents into mistakes,” said Ross. “When we’re playing well we can hang with any team in the province. And with all the confidence in the world right now, we’re aiming to make some noise at Provincials.”