A pair of St. Albert Skyhawks celebrated a bronze-medal victory with Team Alberta at the Canada Basketball U17 female national championship.
Marinya Marcichiw and Brielle Wise played prominent roles in the first medal for the province at nationals in five years in Wednesday’s 62-44 victory over Saskatchewan at the Saville Community Sports Centre.
“It’s a huge accomplishment for us,” said Marcichiw, a returning U17 player in her fourth year with Team Alberta. “To go out there and play for our province and finally accomplish a medal was exciting.”
The medal surpassed last year’s fourth-place finish at the Canada Summer Games.
“We had a goal to finish better than that and just perform to our best so medaling at nationals is a pretty big deal for us,” said Wise, who played for the U16 provincial team last year in a tournament in Las Vegas. “It just shows how hard we worked towards that goal.”
Wise, 17, shared the team lead in points against Saskatchewan with 11 during 23:03 minutes on the court. The six-foot winger also grabbed five defensive rebounds and was 5-for-6 shooting free throws.
“I just wanted to contribute to the team. I wanted to play my role to help the team succeed and get that goal we set,” said the Grade 12 Skyhawk. “We all just tried to help each other out as a team.”
Marcichiw, 17, tossed in nine points while logging the second-most minutes on team at 28:05.
“I just did everything I could in my power to help us get to that bronze medal. Anything I could do I tried my best,” said the six-foot forward. “It was really intense. It was by far the best game we played all season. The crowd was into it, the bench was into it and every single player on the team bought in so it was really great.”
The national medal for the Skyhawks’ duo was on par with winning bronze at 4A provincials last season to finish 30-5 overall after four straight 3A championships by the powerhouse St. Albert Catholic High School women’s program.
“They’re both really good accomplishments but I wouldn’t say one was better than the other because they’re both really good and I’m really proud of both of them,” Wise said.
Marcichiw didn’t play in the Skyhawks’ 4A provincial debut after suffering a concussion in the metro Edmonton division one final loss to the Spruce Grove Panthers but was healthy and happy to hoop it up again.
“I missed playing with my school girls (at provincials) but it definitely felt good to be part of this bronze medal on the court,” said the Grade 12 Skyhawk.
Paige Gaudreau, the Skyhawks’ head coach, also served as an assistant coach for Alberta.
In Tuesday’s semifinals Alberta lost 59-41 to Quebec as Marcichiw racked up a game-high 10 rebounds, including six offensive boards which was one less than the entire Quebec team could muster.
“The disappointment of losing lasted for about 10 minutes after the game and then we put our heads up and decided we’re going to win bronze tomorrow. We said the semifinals didn’t happen, it doesn’t matter anymore,” Marcichiw said.
After trailing 33-19 at halftime Alberta pulled to within nine of Quebec early in the third quarter before losing ground. At one point the deficit ballooned to 20 points in the fourth quarter.
“If anything the loss gave us more motivation to come out strong in the bronze medal game and show everyone what we can do,” Wise said.
In the final Manitoba knocked off Quebec 61-50.
Alberta reached the semifinals by defeating Nova Scotia 55-52 Sunday. It also guaranteed a spot in the top pool at next year’s nationals. Teams in the top pool have a shorter road to travel to make the medal round.
“Basically any team could’ve taken it this year. Everybody was matched up pretty well, it just came down to who could play the hardest in the games that needed to be played the hardest,” Marcichiw said. “Everyone just played well. Everybody matched up. It was quite interesting actually.”
The competition brought out the best in the Alberta players.
“You have the best players from each province battling against each other so in every aspect it’s a lot more intense and faster pace. You really have to step up your game to a level that you’ve never played before. It’s definitely challenging but in the end it makes all of us that much better individually and as a team,” Wise said.
“Playing against a level that high definitely improves almost every aspect of your game,” Marcichiw added. “With the coaching staff and everybody behind you and supporting you, you get faster, you get stronger and you get smarter. Everything improves with a provincial team.”
Tryouts were held in March and after a couple of weekend camps the training intensified for tournaments in Chicago and Regina leading up to nationals.
A hamstring injury sidelined Wise until the eve of nationals but she still traveled with the team, attended every practice and was a vocal presence on the bench before she was good to go.
“It sucked being out but I contributed to the team as much as I could and did what I needed to with the team as a whole to get a medal at nationals,” said Wise, a co-recipient with Marcichiw of the 2014 4A player of the year award and 2013 3A rookie of the year award at the Alberta Shooting Stars Showcase annual weekend celebration of excellence in female basketball.