Skyhawks four-peat at provincials
High school women's basketball team finishes 39-1
By: Jeff Hansen
| Posted: Wednesday, Mar 20, 2013 06:00 am
The St. Albert Skyhawks are still No. 1.
The 39th win in 40 games by the 3A powerhouse was a remarkable fourth-straight provincial crown in high school women's basketball.
“We didn’t place a lot of stock in what our actual record was, it was more about getting to the places and the goals we set at the start of the year and be ready to go at that point,” said head coach John Dedrick.
And for the third year in a row the Skyhawks beat the McCoy Colts of Medicine Hat in the big game.
Co-captains Kayla Ivicak, Amber Easthope and Paige Knull combined for 61 of the team’s 79 points in Saturday’s overwhelming 32-point margin of victory in Strathmore.
“The game certainly wasn’t as exciting as some of the other ones in the past have been. We won by four points last year and 11 points the year before and the McGrath game (56-48 in 2010) was really tight as well,” Dedrick said. “But it’s still impressive just from the fact that we only had three returning players and we were so young.”
The result completed the most successful campaign in the Skyhawks’ four-year provincial run.
“We almost didn’t expect to have such a strong team this year with so many young kids coming up with five Grade 10s. It just shows how committed everyone is to the sport and how they push themselves to become the best players they are,” said Knull, who joined Easthope, her only Grade 12 teammate on the Skyhawks, as three-time provincial champions.
“Paige and I really had to step it up and be the leaders this year and it was good that we did what we needed to do and got the third one,” Easthope added. “The team was great this year. I couldn’t have asked for a better season to be a Skyhawk.”
Going into provincials the Skyhawks won five out of six tournaments and repeated as the undefeated metro Edmonton premier champions as the only 3A team in the conference.
“It’s a testament to how hard the players work and how hard the young players had to grow up really quickly. They had to buy into what we were doing, whether they were coming from the junior team or from junior high,” Dedrick said. “We specifically crafted a schedule that might have been a little bit easier at the start and then played tougher tournaments near the end, finishing with Spruce Grove and playing tough 4A schools there, as well as McCoy, and it all kind of seemed to work out.”
Last month at the Spruce Grove Panthers tournament the first loss after 28 wins was 78-63 in overtime to the Sir Winston Churchill Bulldogs of Calgary in the semifinals. It also halted a 36-game winning streak that started a year ago in late February.
At the 4A provincials last weekend the Bulldogs were seeded first in the 16-team draw and won bronze.
In the third-place game in Spruce Grove the Skyhawks beat the Panthers, seeded 12th at 4A provincials, by 10 points.
A few weeks earlier, the Skyhawks outscored the Bishop O’Byrne Bobcats of Calgary 13-1 with under two minutes left in regulation to tie it at 74, then prevailed in OT 86-82 in the tournament final at the SkyDome. The Bobcats were ranked No. 1 in 4A at the time.
“It just shows that we’re not only competitive in 3A but we also compete against any team we come across. It’s just not in our own league but against every team that we’ve faced. We give them a fight no matter what,” Knull said.
Last year the Skyhawks lost twice to McCoy in consecutive tournaments before knocking them off in the provincial final in Camrose. This year they dumped the No. 2-ranked Colts 70-56 in Spruce Grove and whipped them 79-47 in Strathmore.
“In the final we worked hard together from beginning to end. There was no stopping for us. We had so much energy and we were so excited for that game that we kept it up throughout the whole thing and that helped us push ahead of McCoy,” Knull said.
Period scores were 23-18 after the first, 44-26 at halftime and 62-35 entering the last 10-minute frame
Ivicak drained 14 of her game-high 26 points in the first half. The tenacious Grade 11 forward made a huge impact in a somewhat tight first period with three key field goals and then ended the quarter with two free throws. She also hit a three-pointer to start the last period.
The speedy Easthope was making plays all over the court while racking up 20 points. The 17-year-old guard tossed in three of the Skyhawks’ four three-pointers. In the second quarter she scored the team’s first five points, starting with her second three of the game, as the Skyhawks outscored McCoy 21-8 in the period for a commanding 18-point lead.
Knull turned in a solid 15-point performance. The 17-year-old forward was difficult to stop penetrating the paint and was rewarded with several trips to the free throw line where she made seven attempts.
Amy Mildenberger and Riki Steward had strong efforts coming off the bench with six points apiece.
“We knew what we had to do and we got it done,” Easthope said. “We got more stops than they did and made more baskets.”
Defensively the Skyhawks were superior in creating multiple turnovers at both ends of the floor in every quarter through aggressive rebounding and timely steals. They picked off more passes than the Skyhawks’ football team did last year and every player took turns diving for loose balls.
“Our half court was really good.” Easthope said. “We tried to talk as loud as we could to help each other out even though the gym was so loud.”
At the buzzer the Skyhawks acted like they had been there before during a subdued post-game celebration.
“Last year we were a lot more excited since it was so close. This year it was kind of hard to celebrate when you’re up by 30,” said Easthope.
She joined Knull and Ivicak as the only returnees from last season’s 34-6 championship team.
“Last year we were more of a shooting team. We had great shooters,” Easthope said. “This year we were more dominant in attacking teams. The effort was really there too because we worked really hard in practice.”
Easthope and Knull had mixed emotions after their last game as Skyhawks.
“It was definitely bittersweet. I can’t even imagine not having (assistant coach Paige) Gaudreau and Deds as my coaches anymore. They’re just awesome,” Easthope said.
“Every year is exciting because it’s a new team and it’s a new experience with everyone,” Knull added. “It was exciting to watch so many young kids come into the program and be able to come out as a provincial champion. I know what that feeling is and it’s exciting to experience it with them.”
An unprecedented fourth consecutive provincial championship also marked the end of era, as Dedrick and Gaudreau will switch roles next season. Dedrick will serve as Gaudreau’s assistant while working with Rob Poole, head coach of the MacEwan University Griffins women’s team.
During Dedrick’s tenure as the team’s passionate bench boss, the Skyhawks became the only St. Albert high school women’s basketball program to win premier (three undefeated championship seasons in four years) and provincial banners (first 3A team to accomplish the feat).
The Skyhawks also won their seventh-straight zone title and competed in their ninth-consecutive provincials under Dedrick’s direction.
“It’s a good time. I’m still going to be involved but I won’t be there all the time 24/7. It will be good for Paige to grow and good for me to just experience something different,” said Dedrick, who coached the Skyhawks to an amazing 139-24 overall record during their four-year provincial reign. “Paige has grown leaps and bounds just in terms of her bench control (since joining the Skyhawks four seasons ago) and the girls have always loved her to begin with so they’re not losing anything from that perspective.”
FREE THROWS: The Skyhawks tipped off provincials with a 93-38 rout of the eighth-seeded Eagle Butte Talons in the quarterfinals. The Skyhawks outscored the Talons 20-2 in the second quarter to lead 50-16 at halftime.
Ivicak tacked up 18 of her team-leading 22 points in the first half, including 12 in the first quarter. Brielle Wise popped in 19 points and Easthope wired four three-pointers in the second half while recording 14 of her 16 points after halftime. Knull added 15 and Steward had eight.
In the semifinals Easthope lit up fourth-seeded Camrose Trojans with two threes during a 12-point outburst in the first quarter in the 82-48 win. She finished the game with a three in the second half and 23 points overall.
Ivicak chipped in with 15, Knull sank 13 and Wise, Mildenberger and Marinya Marcichiw had 10 apiece.
The bronze medallists in the 12-team draw outscored the Skyhawks 11-8 in the second quarter, but trailed by 36-24 at the break.
Grade 10 forward Jessa Ivicak didn’t dress for provincials because of a concussion suffered in the March 2 premier final.
A pair of guards, Andrea Durocher and Abby Schneider from the metro Edmonton premier junior champion Skyhawks, were called up for provincials.