Abbotsford’s thriving hoops scene will be front and centre next week, as the Abbotsford Police City Basketball Tournament tips off at gyms around the city.
The event is huge in scope, bringing together virtually every local team in the senior (Grade 11-12), junior (Grade 9-10) and Grade 8 divisions. In all, 54 boys and girls teams will be vying for local bragging rights.
In anticipation, we’ve outlined some of the key storylines to watch.
SENIORS TAKE CENTRE STAGE
The W.J. Mouat Hawks boys and the Yale Lions girls are considered the teams to beat in the high-profile senior divisions.
The Mouat boys suffered an exhibition loss to White Rock Christian Academy on Wednesday to open the season, but they boast a towering and talented lineup. Senior power forward Cam Friesen (6’4″) and Grade 10 centre Tristan Etienne (6’9″) are battling injuries in the early going, but there’s still plenty of size available – Grade 11 reserve Sebastian Muermann stands 6’10”, and wing players Jesse Coy and Mac Thompson go 6’4″ and 6’3″, respectively.
The Hawks are ranked No. 3 among AAA teams in B.C., but Mouat coach Rich Ralston said his squad still has a lot to prove.
“Rankings are fun, but when it comes down to it, you’ve got to play the games,” he noted. “It is nice to be recognized – it shows we’re working hard and we have some good talent.”
The small-but-speedy Yale Lions will also be a factor in the senior boys draw, while the Abbotsford Christian Knights are an interesting dark horse among the smaller schools. Two seasons ago, the Knights’ current crop of seniors finished fourth in the Fraser Valleys, losing to Mouat by one point in the bronze medal game.
On the girls’ side, Yale is also aiming to rekindle the magic of two seasons ago. Their Grade 12 class, as juniors, won the Fraser Valleys and finished fifth at provincials.
The Lions have played second fiddle locally in recent years to Mouat, which won the B.C. AAA crown last year, but they’re aiming to move to the front of the pack this season behind a talented senior core led by Jessica Collins, Hannah Klassen, Kendra Arnold and Sarah Kurath.
“It’s been good having Mouat down the road,” said Yale coach Euan Roberts, whose team is ranked No. 9 in B.C. “We saw what a provincial champion looked like, so we know what it takes.”
Even though Mouat sent five girls from their B.C. title team on to the post-secondary ranks, they’re still talented enough to merit an honourable mention in the provincial ranking, and they’ll also be in the mix.
PARITY IN JUNIOR DIVISION
The juniors are harder to handicap, because there isn’t the same level of familiarity with athletes and teams as at the senior level.
“We haven’t seen the other teams yet,” noted Jim Williams, who coaches the MEI junior boys with Arnie Dick. “I think it’s going to be the usual suspects for junior boys – Mouat, Yale, and we’ll be fine as well.”
On the junior girls side, Mouat dominated the city tourney last year, but this year’s event figures to be more wide-open.
“It’s evening out a lot this year,” said Tym Berger, who coaches the Abby Christian junior girls. “Based on what happened at the junior and Grade 8 levels last year, it could be a dogfight all the way through.”
In addition to traditional contenders like Yale, Mouat and MEI, Abby Christian’s junior girls boast a tall roster, with three players in the six-foot range. Abby Traditional could also be in the mix – their Grade 9 class won a Fraser Valley title as Grade 8s last season.
STARS OF TOMORROW IN GRADE 8 DRAW
The police tournament represents a coming-out party for the Grade 8s, who step out onto a major city-wide stage for the first time.
It’s not all wide-eyed wonder, though. Quizzed as to whether he looks up to the stars at the senior level, W.A. Fraser Falcons point guard Riley Braich answered in ambitious fashion.
“I watch them to try to be better than them,” he said. “I want to work harder.”
The Fraser boys and girls teams are considered the favourites in the Grade 8 draw – both Falcons squads won their respective Grade 7 league titles last season.
“If you really want to see future stars, come out and watch the Grade 8s,” said Don Hildebrand, coach of the MEI Grade 8 girls.
“They’re all enthusiastic to no end. They can hardly wait to get on the floor. They’re nervous, all those things. It’s a fun stage, just trying to get the players to understand where they need to be.”
A HIGHER GOAL
Local bragging rights are a big deal, but the Abbotsford Police Department hopes the tournament has an even bigger impact.
The APD spearheaded the resurrection of the city hoops event in 2009, with the goal of encouraging students to chose a crime-free lifestyle. Last year, the organizing committee doled out $6,500 in scholarships.
“We want to bring the community together,” said Const. Estee Clifford, who played basketball at Yale and UFV and is helping with the organization of the tourney on behalf of the APD. “Sports teams are like a family away from home, and they can help teach kids a good work ethic and values they need to stay away from a life of crime.”
The tourney tips off next Wednesday, Dec. 7, and culminates on Saturday with six divisional title games staged in succession at Columbia Bible College. Championship Saturday begins with the Grade 8 girls at 11 a.m., followed by the Grade 8 boys (12:30 p.m.), junior girls (3 p.m.), junior boys (4:30 p.m.), senior girls (5:15 p.m.), and senior boys (7 p.m.).
For a complete list of game times and locations, visit abbypdbasketball.ca.