Hoop dreams for Blues

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SFX High School – The Paul Kane Blues are locked and loaded for an explosive season in high school women’s basketball.

A powerful returning cast of eight players has one of the top teams in Alberta primed for championship success in the metro Edmonton division one league and at 4A provincials.

“Our biggest goal is doing something better than what we did last year,” said Grade 12 sniper Alesha Stanley of the 2017 metro semifinalists that finished 2-1 on the championship side of the provincial draw as the No. 9 seed in the 16-team tournament. “We’re trying to go one step farther than what we did last year and that’s the most important thing for us.”

Everything the Blues do points toward a podium finish at provincials.

“We want to be confident and try and win something, a medal or be first. If we work hard and stay together I think we’ll be happy,” Stanley said.

The season officially tipped off Thursday for the Blues at the 20th annual Mike Dea Classic after lopsided exhibition results of 107-30 against the O’Leary Spartans at Paul Kane and 88-30 against the host Spruce Grove Panthers.

The 107-22 cakewalk against the Luther Lions of Regina in the quarter-finals of the 12-team draw was basically a glorified practice session before Friday’s semifinal tilt against the rival St. Albert Skyhawks. The score was unavailable at press time.

Depending on the result, the defending tournament champions will rattle the rim today in the third-place game at 2 p.m. or the 6 p.m. final.

“It would give us a lot of confidence to win it again. It would help us get off to a good start to our season. It would also help us with our chemistry with the new girls that did come in and it would give the younger girls confidence as well,” said Stanley, who played the role of shooting guard to perfection with five three-pointers and 19 points overall. Her last basket was a three to make it 61-18 early in the third quarter.

The Blues dropped 13 threes on the Lions, including nine in the first half, while posting period leads of 31-14 at the end of the first and 54-18 at the half.

The last three was deposited by Bella Gaulden for the team’s 100th point with 2:49 remaining. The Grade 10 guard scored eight of 13 points in the fourth quarter as the Blues outscored the Lions 20-1.

Bronwyn Barter tossed in 17 points, including three threes, and Anika Steele added 11 points.

Both Grade 12 players are prime-time starters, along Grade 12 guard Tegan MacKinnon, Stanley and her Grade 11 sister, Ella, another standout who tacked up two threes and 10 points in the first half.

“We’re a good balance of Grade 10s (five), Grade 11s (two) and Grade 12s (six). We all have our different skills and when it all kind of comes together we’re a good team,” said Stanley, who played for Team Alberta at the 2017 Canada Summer Games in Winnipeg with Ella and Abby Morrison.

“A lot of us have also stayed together for over five years. We’ve grown up together playing basketball (in the SLAM and junior high ranks and now with the Blues) so we’ve had that chemistry for a really long time and we just work really well together,” Stanley added.

Beating the Jasper Place Rebels, who are on the opposite side of the draw at the Mike Dea Classic, would give the Blues a big boost after falling short last season to the 2017 metro division one and 4A provincial champions who graduated eight players from their 35-0 team.

Despite losses of 58-51 to the No. 1-seeded Rebels and 69-65 to the No. 5-seeded Strathcona Lords at provincials – the Lords also knocked off the Blues 67-63 in the metro semifinals at Paul Kane – and the 1-2 showing against the Skyhawks – 67-49 loss at the REB Invitational at Jasper Place, followed by the 53-49 win a few days later in league play at Paul Kane and then the 57-55 setback in the 4A Edmonton zone three/four playoff in March at Paul Kane – it was one of the best seasons in a long time for the senior Blues.

“We were successful last year because it was really inspiring to have one Grade 12 (Allie Hunder) and make it that far. We were still pretty young so we were pretty proud of ourselves for getting that far. We also had the good chemistry. We worked together really well and that’s what made us a good team,” Stanley said.

But is there pressure when it’s the Year of the Blues?

“There is a little but I don’t think there is a lot. It might grow throughout the season but if we don’t think about it we’ll do well,” Stanley said.

FREE THROWS: League play is expected to start the week of Dec. 11 for the Blues.

Next weekend the Blues are competing at a tournament in Victoria with games spread around the Claremont, Spectrum, Lambrick and Stelly’s high schools.

The senior and junior Blues, as well as the Skyhawks, are also entered in the 36th REB Invitational Dec. 14 to 16.

The Paul Kane Classic is set for Jan. 12-13 and in the 2017 final the Rebels downed the Blues 64-41.

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Jeff Hansen

Jeff Hansen joined the St. Albert Gazette in 1991. He writes about sports, athletes and teams from St. Albert and area.