The Steveston-London Sharks were collecting more than just tournament hardware on Saturday night.
The host school is girls champions for the first time in the history of the 12th annual Bob Carkner Memorial Classic after a 76-57 win over the John Oliver Jokers.
Besides the first place trophy and all-star awards, roses were also presented to graduating senior players in what turned out to be the Sharks’ final home game of the campaign, even though it’s only mid-January.
They are not part of the Richmond Senior Girls League for regular season play and will travel to McMath next week in a one game showdown to determine the top two seeds for next month’s city championships. The decision was made to keep both provincially ranked schools out of the league to avoid lopsided results — something that has been far too frequent in recent years.
“We are thankful because we knew prior to the season this might happen so we got into a couple of tournaments in December and three more this month,” explained Sharks head coach Connie Chan.
“We tried to schedule more exhibition games but it’s hard to travel out to other districts and what not. We do have a collection of games and they are actually good tournaments with some high 3A and other quality teams. So that’s how we are prepping for post season.”
Steveston-London reached the final of the Carkner Classic a year ago only to fall to McMath. The three-time defending champions passed on this year’s tournament but the teams are poised to meet three times over the next month.
The rivalry for a talented core of Grade 11 players goes back four years. The teams both reached the podium at the 2018 Grade 9 Provincial Championships with the Sharks taking top honours.
The Wildcats have bulked up their roster significantly by adding more underage talent including 6-foot-2 Grade 9 Marina Radocaj who attended a Basketball Canada ID camp last month.
It has helped McMath hold down the No. 3 spot in the last provincial 3A rankings while the Sharks were an honourable mention at one point and have an excellent chance at earning a provincial berth at the inaugural South Fraser 3A Zone Playoffs.
“McMath is always strong. We will have to bring a certain level of mentality and energy,” continued Chan. “Our defence and boxing out will be key because that’s where their size comes in. If we are not clearing out and using our bodies, we are going to lose that battle.”
Chan has been working hard at balancing the Sharks’ attack.
Grade 11 standout guard Mina Chong fearlessly attacks the basket and is capable of scoring from anywhere on the floor. She had a game-high 26 in the Carkner final to nail down tournament MVP honours. Shir Dayan added 17, while Dana Sander and Sharlene Siy had 11 each. The trio was named first team tournament all-stars.
The Sharks’ ball rotation was giving all five players on the floor good looks at the basket and they are all encouraged to shoot.
“We call it the Mina syndrome, laughed Chan. “I always tell her she is only as best as the last player on the bench. Say something happens to her or someone else? And we have had games where she has had to be at school doing a test.
“That is what I keep reminding them. If they double or even triple team her, what are we going to do?”