Wildcats, Crusaders ready for Valley dogfight

The provincial championship tournament in any high school sport is a showcase of the best teams in the province.

Unless you’re playing class AAAA senior boys basketball this year.

When the provincial tourney gets underway at the Langley Events Centre next month, one thing is already set in stone — at least four of the top 15 teams in B.C. won’t be there. That’s because the Fraser Valley Conference, always a traditional hoops hotbed, is ridiculously deep this season.

The current provincial rankings have eight Fraser Valley teams — Tamanawis (1), Holy Cross (3), Terry Fox (4), Walnut Grove (5), Sardis (7), Gleneagle (8), Pitt Meadows (9) and Heritage Woods (10) — ranked in the top 10 with Yale and Lord Tweedsmuir pegged as honourable mentions.

And the down side of this embarrassment of basketball riches? There are only six provincial berths available for Fraser Valley schools.

“The Fraser Valley is definitely very competitive and every game is critical,” said Holy Cross coach Matt LeChasseur. “We don’t look at it as a massive challenge because we know we don’t have to play every single team. We have a road laid out for us and our task is to win our first two games and reach the semifinal. If we can do that, we’re in the provincials and then we can worry about where we place. That’s our focus.

“I know it’s hard to look past the strength of the conference, but our job is to play the teams in front of us and not make the task too overwhelming.”

One team that knows first-hand the pitfalls of coming up flat in the Fraser Valley tournament is the top-ranked Tamanawis Wildcats. Last year the ‘Cats were ranked in the top five teams in the province with an eye on making some noise in the provincials. Instead, Tamanawis was upended in the quarter-finals of the Valleys and then dropped a do-or-die game in their next outing and missed the bus to the sport’s big dance.

Wildcats coach Mike McKay said his boys have learned from that painful lesson and are heading into the Valleys determined it won’t happen again.

“Our guys are a year older and much better prepared for the Valleys this time,” McKay said. “It’s not that we didn’t want to win last year, but the guys are much more focused now. They understand now how difficult it is to get out of the Valley and they’ve put in so much extra time this year that they’re playing at a whole other level. They’re much more mature this year and they know that even if they fall behind, they can still come back.”

The inaugural 2014 edition of the AAAA Fraser Valley tournament (the 4A class was introduced this season) began Wednesday night with preliminary round play. The full bracket hits the courts on Friday night with the round of 16. Holy Cross and Tamanawis will both be hosting early round games as a reward for winning their respective zones last week.

In the Fraser Valley South zone final, Tamanawis topped Semiahmoo 83-60 behind a 31-point effort from Sukhjot Bains. The win was nice, but the Wildcats have their eyes focused on a bigger prize.

“Winning the zone is nice, but the Valley tournament is a much bigger challenge,” McKay said. “We ended up with an OK draw. We play the winner of Lord Tweedsmuir and Panorama Ridge in our first game and we’ve played them both twice so we’re comfortable with that. It gets really interesting after that though.

“There’s a lot of good teams out there and you can’t project who will advance. It’s going to be a real battle because if you lose your quarter-final game on Monday, then you have to win three games in a row just to get back into contention for a spot in the provincials.”

The Wildcats will host the winner of Wednesday’s clash between Lord Tweedsmuir and Panorama Ridge on Friday at 7:45 p.m.

Meanwhile across town in Fleetwood, the Holy Cross Crusaders had a much tougher time of it against the scrappy North Surrey Spartans. The heavily favoured Crusaders shook off the effects of a nasty flu bug in time to secure a 73-71 win.

Holy Cross guard Taylor Browne was named the MVP.

“Winning the zone was a good result for us,” LeChasseur said. “The flu bug has been going through our team and we were missing a few guys for the final. North Surrey played really well though; they’re a tough team. The biggest thing is by winning the zone we get to host the first three rounds of the Fraser Valleys and that’s where our focus is now.”

Holy Cross will host the winner of Wednesday’s game between Mouat and Enver Creek on Friday at 7:45 p.m.

Quarter-final round games will go Monday evening. For more info, visit www.bcboysbasketball.com.

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