Skyhawks prep for provincials
Undefeated high school women's basketball team hosts 16-team tournament next week
By: Jeff Hansen
| Posted: Saturday, Jan 26, 2013 06:00 am
The homestretch run towards an unprecedented fourth-straight 3A provincial championship starts Thursday for the St. Albert Skyhawks in high school women’s basketball.
The 2012 metro Edmonton premier conference champions host their second annual Skyhawks Invitational Tournament after a lengthy exam break in the schedule.
“This is where we start to make or break as a team towards our end goal of winning provincials,” said Grade 12 forward Paige Knull. “If we work hard we’ll get the results we want.”
The Skyhawks are 6-0 as the only 3A team in the metro premier league and overall are 16-0.
“If we keep going strong we’ve got a good chance at provincials,” said Knull, a member of the 2012 juvenile provincial team.
Next month the Skyhawks have six league games on tap and tournaments at Chestermere and Spruce Grove prior to the premier playoffs.
The Edmonton zone elimination tournament is set for early March, as the Skyhawks shoot for their seventh-consecutive zone title and ninth provincial berth in a row.
Provincials are March 14 to 16 in Strathmore.
Last season the Skyhawks went undefeated for the second time in three years as metro premier champions, and then capped off their 34-6 campaign with their historic third 3A provincial gold medal in a row by beating the McCoy Colts of Medicine Hat 68-64 in Camrose.
“We all want to get to provincials obviously but we can’t get too high on ourselves because you never know what could happen,” said Knull, a third-year Skyhawk. “We just need to keep pushing our hardest and not stay at the same level. We need to keep improving because other teams are too.”
The No. 1-ranked 3A team in Alberta is riding a 24-game winning streak that started after the 68-66 loss to the McCoy Colts of Medicine Hat in the final of the Wetaskiwin tournament on Feb. 25, 2012.
“It gives us real motivation to keep that up, especially playing other teams that obviously want to take it away from us,” said Knull, one of three returning Skyhawks on the 10-player roster. “It also shows how well our coaches (John Dedrick and Paige Gaudreau) have led both teams, like transitioning from year to year, and how hard we as players work. To win you have to be dedicated and you have to work as hard as you can in practice as in games.”
The last game for the Skyhawks before the exam break was the 87-21 rout of the winless Salisbury Sabres on Jan. 10 in Sherwood Park.
“We’re definitely looking forward to coming back from the break. It gave us time to obviously focus on studies as well as still working on basketball. We’ve still got that strong team chemistry and we’re working hard at keeping our level up so we come back just as strong as we left off,” said Knull, 17, a bullish five-foot-eight rebounder who grinds out points in the paint.
The first order of business for the Skyhawks is winning their tournament, which replaced the Optimist Showdown in St. Albert. The Showdown tournament ended after 21 years when the Bellerose Composite and Paul Kane high schools withdrew their support, along with the Optimist Club of St. Albert’s $5,000 sponsorship, for the women’s and men’s competition.
The Skyhawks’ inaugural 2012 tournament featured eight women’s and seven men’s teams.
This year the Skyhawks men host an eight-team tournament Feb. 15 and 16.
The 16-team women’s tournament tips off Thursday at 3 p.m. The Skyhawks play the W.P. Wagner Warriors of the Edmonton public league at the SkyDome and Bowness Trojans of Calgary face the St. Joseph Celtics of Grande Prairie at Morinville Community High School. The winners clash Friday in the 9 a.m. quarter-finals at the SkyDome.
The SkyDome is also the venue for 5:45 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. semifinals Friday and the 12 p.m. consolation final, 2 p.m. third-place game and 4 p.m. final Saturday.
The tournament draw features five teams in the 3A rankings (Skyhawks at No. 1, Chestermere Lakers at No. 3, Edmonton Christian Lions at No. 6, Morinville Wolves at No. 10 and Wetaskiwin Sabres as an honourable mention) and two teams ranked in 4A (Bishop O’Bryne Bobcats of Calgary at No. 1 and St. Francis Xavier Rams as an honourable mention).
The out-of-provincial teams are the Miles Macdonell Buckeyes of Winnipeg and the James Mahoney Saints of Saskatoon.
Rounding out the field are the Ernest Manning Griffins, Bishop Carroll Cardinals and Bishop Grandin Ghosts of Calgary and Grande Prairie Warriors.
Tournament organizers put the Skyhawks and Bishop O’Bryne on opposite sides of the draw so they could potentially hoop it up in the final.
“Hopefully we make it to the final, but win or lose we’re getting good competition and it’s going to help us develop as a team, especially leading up to provincials,” said Knull, a candidate for the metro premier female MVP award. “We’re going to have to work really hard in order to get to where we want to be in the tournament.”