SURREY — It was, as Lord Tweedsmuir coach Mike Mitro suggested just before tip-off, “a stylistic matchup.”
On one side, the Panorama Ridge Thunder, a team exploiting its noticeable height and wingspan advantages to dominate under the hoop and rip up the competition. On the other side, the speed, skill and withering full-court press of the Lord Tweedsmuir Panthers. Both teams were undefeated as they walked on the court Saturday afternoon (Jan. 9) for the finale of the 15th annual Surrey Fire Fighters Senior Girls Basketball Classic.
Two hours and a whole ton of baskets later, it was over. The scoreboard read 83-73 and the smaller, faster Panthers had its first ever Classic championship. That it all happened in front of a boisterous home crowd made the victory that much sweeter.
CLICK HERE to see more photos of Saturday’s action.
True to form, the contest showcased two distinct approaches and two distinct skill sets. Thunder coach John Sowerby asked the key questions beforehand.
“We outsize Tweedsmuir by quite a bit. But they’re so quick, and they can shoot the lights out. So that’ll be the challenge, right? Can we keep up with their quickness? And can they stop our size?”
Ultimately, quickness won out.
The game started slowly as the teams found their footing. Penetration was rare on both sides of the court, with too many shots from outside the paint. But intensity has a funny way of creeping up on you, and by the 10-minute mark, the fun had begun.
Still, as the clock wound down in the first half, the Panthers had opened up a double-digit lead they’d never relinquish. It came through aggression and it came through the team’s not-so-secret weapon: a frantic full-court press that hurried the opposition into key turnovers.
Maryn Budiman would later be named the defensive player of the tourney and, in the final game, Budiman and teammates Ali Norris and tournament MVP Emma Jones, among others, were simply unrelenting.
But the Thunder, ranked fifth in the province, just one spot ahead of the Panthers, didn’t quit. Indeed, they would narrow the gap from the high to the low teens late in the game, and appeared poised to narrow it even further as the Panthers sagged. But missed shots and timely substitutions assured the victory.
“Fitness – that’s a big thing right there,” Mitro said after the surprisingly high-scoring affair. “We ran a ton, we pressed a ton. So getting up and down the floor was key.
“I thought shooting would be a big difference, but we didn’t shoot the ball very well,” he continued. “But we got a lot of turnovers, and that makes a short court. Then you’re getting a lot of layups as opposed to trying three-pointers or having to set and run your offense.
“Our two seniors – Emma and Ali – do a lot for us. Maryn Budimen does a ton for us as well. We’ve got a Grade 10 on the team, Shelvy Grewal, and she shoots the lights out, and some nights she can’t miss. They’re all basketball junkies.”
Like Thunder coach Sowerby, Mitro places huge importance on the Fire Fighters Classic. “This is the Surrey championships for us. We’re trying to be one of the premier teams in the province. We’ve never got to this point in this tournament. It’s great.”
Indeed, the event itself is equally great. This year, it brought together 22 schools from across the city in a format featuring two “ladders.” If a team keeps winning, it stays in the top ladder and has a chance at the final. But even if it loses, it isn’t out of it. It remains in contention for the tournament’s consolation final.
That consolation final was played out just prior to the Panthers-Thunder game Saturday afternoon. It featured all the pomp of the later game, including nattily attired firefighters, a wacky half-time show and an announcer who goes all-NBA when a player sinks a basket. It’s a special time for these dedicated young athletes and a much deserved moment of glory.
PICTURED: Jacob Kubanski, Maryn Budiman (Tweedsmuir MVP), Celia Palmer (Panorama Ridge MVP), Chad Gehon.
In this year’s consolation final, Semiahmoo Totems defeated Guildford Park Sabres 60-42. The Sabres later won the tourney’s Most Sportsmanlike Team award during wrap-up ceremonies that included plentiful trophies and medals, a piper and enough firefighters to man a station or two.
Surrey Fire Fighters’ Charitable Society awarded several scholarships at the tourney. Seven $750 bursaries were doled out, recognizing players for their hoop skills and volunteer work in the community. This year’s recipients were Simran Dhillon of Elgin Park, Katya Vanderleek of Surrey Christian, Aide Idemudia of Frank Hurt, Parabjit Malhi of Panorama Ridge, Ali Norris of Lord Tweedsmuir, Emily Pearson of Fraser Heights and Prabhjot Gadri of Tamanawis.
It was a strong end to a worthy tournament. And it’s likely not the last we’ll see of the finalists. The Panthers and Thunder players were some of the youngest in the tourney – just three Grade 12 students per squad. It may be a case of when, not if, we see the two battling for the provincial championship.