Skyhawks peak for playoffs
Defending premier champions are 12-0 in league play and 31-1 overall in high school women's basketball
By: Jeff Hansen
| Posted: Saturday, Feb 23, 2013 06:00 am
The St. Albert Skyhawks are two wins away from their third undefeated premier women's championship in four years in high school basketball.
The team to beat has a bye in Monday’s opening playoff round before hosting Wednesday’s semifinal at 4:45 p.m. The final is next Saturday at 5 p.m. at O’Leary High School.
“Obviously if we can go undefeated that would be great, but in some ways it does put a little bit more pressure on us to perform,” said John Dedrick, head coach of the three-time reigning 3A provincial champions. “We obviously don’t want that first loss in league play to be in the playoffs, but I feel comfortable that if we come out and perform, and we always talk about playing to our level of expectations, that we’ll be in the mix.”
The Skyhawks averaged 76 points and only 33 against in 12 wins this season in the metro Edmonton league.
“It just shows how hard we work but it also puts a target on our back so we have to bring it every single game,” said Brielle Wise, one of five Grade 10s on the 10-player roster. “We’re going to go into the playoffs hard and play like how we always do because that’s all we can do; just play up to our standards and always strive to be our best and just work hard.”
The only 3A team in premier has lost only three league games – all in 2010/11, including the semifinal to the Paul Kane Blues in the SkyDome – after the 2008/09 campaign.
“We’re proud to represent 3A schools when we’re playing in the premier league against all 4A schools,” Dedrick said. “It says something too about club basketball in St. Albert and the junior high schools – we’ve had some successful junior high schools that obviously feed kids into us – even SLAM and my little HBA academy; those kids now are slowly feeding their way into our program. You add the community coaches and organizations and all those things together and that I think has made basketball in St. Albert so competitive.”
The Blues are the Skyhawks’ main challenger in premier as the only team to drop more than 40 points on the 2012 champions this season, albeit in losses by margins of 29 in December at Paul Kane and 39 on Wednesday at the SkyDome to wrap up the regular season.
“PK plays its best basketball against us,” Dedrick said. “We want teams to be worried and be a little bit fearful of playing us and I know they’re one of the few teams not afraid to play us at all. It’s anybody’s game a lot of times against PK. They’re well coached. There has been rivalries between the kids. The program has some rivalry to it. We know that they’re not going to quit.”
Wednesday the sixth-place Blues (5-7) outscored the Skyhawks 16-13 in the third quarter, but trailed 57-31 with 10 minutes to play.
“We had a decent first half. The kids were playing hard and having fun,” Dedrick said. “We talked at halftime and said, ‘OK, let’s concentrate on this and go out and do the right things,’ and then we basically came out and laid a goose egg so that was very disappointing.”
The outcome was a done deal after the Skyhawks ended the first quarter with a nine-point run to lead 22-8, before pulling away to make it a 29-point spread at halftime.
“In the first half we played pretty good and pushed the ball,” Wise said. “In the second half we weren’t the team we want to be. We weren’t up to playing to our standards so we kind of lost the second half.”
Grade 12 standout Paige Knull scored nine of her team-high 16 points in the first half. Kayla Ivicak finished with 15, Amber Easthope tossed in 11 and Wise and Marinya Marcichiw had 10 apiece. Marcichiw’s points came in the first half.
Last Saturday the Skyhawks showed their vulnerable side in a rollercoaster 78-63 overtime loss to the Sir Winston Churchill Bulldogs of Calgary in the semifinal of the Spruce Grove Panthers tournament. The first setback of the season after 28 wins also snapped a 36-game winning streak that started a year ago in late February.
“It was a bit of a reality check,” Dedrick said of the loss to the No. 5-ranked 4A Bulldogs. “We were down in the fourth quarter, came back to tie and had a chance to win the game and then unfortunately missed it. That kind of set the tone for us going into the overtime and they responded similar to how we responded against Bishop O’Bryne (out-scored the Calgary team that was ranked No. 1 in 4A 13-1 with under two minutes left in regulation to tie it at 74, en route to the 86-82 thriller in the recent Skyhawks’ tournament final).
“In overtime (the Bulldogs) came out and hit two threes in their first three or four possessions and we missed so all of a sudden we’re immediately down six or eight points.
“Basketball is a game of runs. If you don’t shoot the ball well and it gets towards crunch time the noose gets a little tighter.”
Easthope pumped in 21 points, Paige sank 14 and Wise tacked up 12 in the loss.
“It was a good game, but near the end we kind of fell apart and we weren’t playing like how we should,” Wise said. “In a way it was good for us because it showed that if we don’t play up to par that can happen.”
The Skyhawks went on to defeat the host Panthers 54-44 for third place. Amy Mildenberger led the attack with 14 points, Wise drained 10 and Easthope had nine in the team’s sixth tournament of the season.
In league play Tuesday the Skyhawks cruised to a lopsided 74-37 result in Sherwood Park against the second-place Archbishop Jordan Scots (7-5), losers of the Spruce Grove final to the Bulldogs by one point.
Wise, 15, said the Skyhawks rebounded smartly after the overtime loss.
“I feel it just made us stronger. It was our first loss but we took it in a positive way and tried to move on from it and not dwell on it,” said the steady forward.
In the tournament opener the Skyhawks and the McCoy Colts of Medicine Hat met for the first time since the 2012 provincial final. Knull sparked the offence with 21 points, Easthope chipped in with 17 and Marcichiw added 11 in the 70-56 victory against the No. 2-ranked Colts, who beat the Skyhawks twice by two points in consecutive tournaments last year and lost the 2011 final to the St. Albert Catholic High School team.
The Colts were the last of the top-ranked 3A teams the Skyhawks had not played this season in preparation for provincials.
“McCoy is very good. We’ve also had close games against Camrose (No. 5) and Edmonton Christian (No. 3) and even Athabasca (Edwin Parr Predators at No. 4). Any of the top teams in 3A on a good night can beat anybody,” Dedrick said. “But do I like our chances at provincials? Absolutely, but I’m not getting the trophy engraved at this point.”
FREE THROWS: The Edmonton zone elimination tournament runs March 5 to 7, with one or two teams advancing to the March 14 to 16 provincials in Strathmore. Last year the Skyhawks won their sixth-straight zone title and competed in their eighth-consecutive provincials.