Surrey’s Holy Cross Crusaders golden in Cactus Jam tourney

SURREY — The Holy Cross Crusaders senior girls basketball team had a little extra something to declare when they cleared customs while returning from Phoenix on Jan. 2.

The Crusaders were in Arizona for the annual Cactus Jam tournament where they became the first Canadian team to win the event’s elite division. Canadian teams have done well in the past at the Cactus Jam with Elgin Park and Riverside (Coquitlam) each finishing as high as second.

“It was pretty fun,” said Holy Cross coach Steve Beauchamp. “We had been to that tournament a couple of years ago so I knew the calibre of the teams was pretty impressive. The kids were obviously excited to win there, but I don’t think they had an appreciation of what they accomplished. Later on I pointed out that this tournament has been around for quite a few years and a lot of good B.C. teams have played here and not won it. When they heard that I think it resonated a bit more for them.”

Currently ranked third in the province for class AAA teams, the Crusaders warmed up with an exhibition win before opening competition with a 36-35 win over Seattle’s Kings High.

Holy Cross topped Sonoma Valley (California) 51-45 in the semifinal round and then clinched the title with a 30-26 win over Cooksville (Tennessee) in the championship finale.

The tournament is played without a shot clock, a key factor in the abnormally low scores in the games. Beauchamp said the seemingly endless possession time hurt his team’s offence more than it’s defence.

“There was no shot clock and that made things, um, interesting,” he said. “It definitely changes the product on the floor because we had to play defence a lot longer. We’re a pretty good defensive team though, so that didn’t bother us much.

“On offence you could see how it kind of played games with our girls’ minds after a while. Instead of making two or three passes and then taking a shot like we would with the 24-second clock, our girls started doubting whether it was a good shot to take and instead would dish it off trying to set up a better chance. There was more apprehension and hesitation to take shots than they normally do.”

Alli Buck was named the tournament MVP while Samantha Beauchamp was a first team all-star selection. The Crusaders coach also singled out Michelle Bos, Rachel Beauchamp, Nicole Vander Helm and Amy Sprangers for their efforts in Arizona.

“The tournament was just what we needed in terms of competition,” he said. “It was nice to win it, but for our girls, their focus is on what’s happening this month here at home with a big game against (top-ranked) Brookswood, the Firefighters tournament, the Catholic championships and Tessa’s tournament.”