Fast-maturing Eagles win bronze at home tourney
This year's edition of the Mennonite Educational Institute senior girls basketball team, with its rare blend of youth and talent, simply oozes potential.
And if their performance at their home tournament on the weekend is any indication, these Eagles are maturing rapidly.
The MEI girls battled their way through a tough field to take bronze at the 40th annual Eagles Invitational – they blew out the Delta Pacers 68-23 in the first round, pushed the AAA No. 6-ranked Maple Ridge Ramblers to the limit before falling 57-54 in the semifinals, and knocked off their crosstown rival W.J. Mouat Hawks 75-62 to clinch third.
It's impressive stuff for a team with four starters in Grade 10 or 11.
"We played unbelievable," Eagles coach Rick Thiessen enthused. "The defence was really the key.
"I've been preaching defence right from the get-go. This team loves to score, and there are a lot of scoring threats, but I've been saying we've got to be committed to defence first. We played outstanding defence against Ridge . . . That, to me, is probably the biggest breakthrough."
Indeed, the Eagles' lone loss of the weekend may have been their most impressive showing. Taking on a terrific Maple Ridge squad which boasts 6'3" Oregon State signee Kolbie Orum, MEI built a 35-23 lead at the half. The Ramblers clawed their way back for a three-point victory, but it's clear the Eagles are closing the gap with the elite veteran teams.
Maple Ridge went on to win gold, beating the AA No. 3-ranked Vernon Panthers 63-58 in the final.
In the bronze medal game vs. Mouat, MEI got terrific performances from their youthful duo in the post, Tessa Ratzlaff (Grade 11) and Taylor Claggett (Grade 10). Ratzlaff poured in a game-high 30 points while Claggett scored 25, and both players were picked for the tournament all-star team.
For the Hawks, Serena Sarowa (24 points vs. MEI) and Penielle M'Bikata (18 points) were named tourney all-stars.
MEI's Grade 10/11 cohort boasts an impressive resumé – they won the Fraser Valley title and finished third at junior provincials last season. Upon their transition to the senior team this year, the Eagles moved back up to the AAA ranks after two years at AA.
"This group is super-motivated, and we can compete at that level," Thiessen explained.