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A suffocating Kelowna Owls defence led to a 67-61 win over the hometown Walnut Grove Gators in the final game and to their first-ever B.C. School Sports provincial senior AAA girls basketball championship tonight in Langley.
Ranked No. 1 going into the 16-team provincial tournament, the Owls lived up to the advanced billing by avenging a pair of tournament losses to the then top-seeded Walnut Grove earlier in the season.
The championship-game victory capped a perfect 4-0 record for the Okanagan representatives over the four days of play at the Langley Events Centre. The Owls had earned a berth in the final on centre court by defeating Semiahmoo in semifinal play on Friday after wins over the Argyle Pipers of North Vancouver and Heritage Woods of Port Moody.
The Owls were led by player-of-the-game, Kennedy Dickie, who finished with 21 points, six of which came from timely back-to-back three-pointers with about seven minutes left in the third quarter when the Gators were within one point. The Grade 11 student athlete was named to the tournament’s first all-star team.
Taya Hanson, returning to Kelowna Secondary School after a season at a basketball academy in Ontario and heading to Arizona State University next year, added another 18 points in the championship game and was selected as the most valuable player of the tournament.
But while Hanson and Dickie, along Grade 11 Jaeli Ibbetson, a tournament second-team all-star, were among the elite offensive threats in the tournament, it was the team defence that stood out the most in the four wins. The Owls held the opposition to an average of just over 56 points per game.
Dez Day, Rachel Hare, Kasey Patchell and Rylee Semeniuk also played key supporting roles in the final — especially on D.
Other members of the team, coached by Darren Semeniuk, Heather Semeniuk and Quentin Thiessen, are Kassidy Day, Paige Watson, Kyara Klempner, Jordan Kemper and Jenna Holland.
Coach Darren Semeniuk said the team defence didn't really come together until mid-season and conceded that it evolved faster and better than even he expected.
“We started with the full-court stuff only at Christmas and they all bought in,” he told Howard Tsumura of Varsity Letters soon after the historic championship win. “I knew we were pretty mobile across five players and I thought we could play fast and pressure,” he continued. “But doing the full-court stuff seemed to have a way of making our half-court (defence) better, too, because our rotations are the same, just over a smaller place.”
Meanwhile, Hanson praised her coach for believing in the team.
“We’ve worked so hard it, we’ve been relentless,” Hanson shared with Tsumura. “Doing all of those slides hurt, but they show in a game and they worked. Coach is such an amazing coach and he knew us so well.”
It was a mutual admiration society
“It’s so much more than what she does on the floor,” said Semeniuk of Hanson in the Varsity Letters interview. “She took over leadership responsibilities right away. She’s such an unselfish player. She wants to score for her team, but she is so happy when others do. When she came home, it just gave us that extra edge we needed to compete against the tough teams. And she brings out so much of that in the other players, too.”
As for Dickie, who along with Ibbetson will anchor the team next year in a bid for a provincial repeat, saved arguably her best game for of the year for the most important of the season.
“Kennedy has been up and down all year, but for her to have that game, in the biggest game of her career, I was astonished,” Semeniuk told Tsumura.
“I don’t know what happened, but it was crazy,” said Dickie. “It just happened.”