The St. Albert Skyhawks lived up their advance billing as the team to fear at the 20th annual Optimist Showdown in St. Albert.
Undefeated in the metro Edmonton premier conference as the second-ranked 3A varsity women’s basketball team in Alberta, the Skyhawks overpowered the Centennial Coyotes of Calgary 78-63 in Saturday’s final at the SkyDome.
“It shows we can really bring it, said Kendall Lydon, a Grade 10 forward who gave the Skyhawks a big boost with two pivotal three-balls in the first half and 17 points overall.
Centennial, ranked sixth in 4A, struggled to match the Skyhawks’ heart and hustle.
“We played really intense. We were so focused,” said Katie Burak, a tough Grade 10 post coming off the bench. “We wanted it so much because it was our home tournament and it’s great that we achieved it. It really means a lot for us.”
The second Showdown crown in three years for the Skyhawks was also their second tournament triumph of the season. Their lowest finish in three tourneys was fourth place at the REB Invitational at Jasper Place.
“It’s going to help our standings for provincials. We’re number two right now and we’re working hard to be number one, and this tournament will help us get there,” said Lydon, 16, a huge addition to the three-time defending Edmonton zone champions from the Chehalis Bearcats in Washington State.
Early in the match the Skyhawks jumped ahead to stay en route to posting leads of 20-16 after the first quarter, 41-28 at halftime and 59-39 after three quarters.
“We pushed the ball more than they did. We made them run and I don’t think they were used to that,” Lydon said. “We stepped up our defence a little bit more in the second half. We did really good trapping and we started getting a bunch of steals.”
Lydon’s second three-pointer with 3:40 left in the first half to make it 33-23 was scored during a decisive 11-point run as the Skyhawks pulled away to victory.
Hilary Annich, the consensus tournament MVP, turned in an inspired performance by draining a game-high 24 points, highlighted by a pair of threes in the second half. Annich registered 11 of the team’s 19 points in the last 10-minute quarter to seal the deal. Several of her buckets were gems. In the second quarter the Grade 12 point guard scored twice off turnovers during the Skyhawks’ momentum-shifting scoring spree. She also earned the loudest ovation of the night by stealing the ball at midcourt, then danced around a couple of defenders before tossing in a layup with an aggressive baseline move to put the Skyhawks up 14 with 2:05 to go before halftime.
The second quarter started with a bang as Andrea Heavener unloaded a three to spark the attack. The Grade 12 wing tacked up 13 of her 15 points in the first half.
Also contributing offensively was Shelby Hucul with 13 points and Zoe Downing with nine.
“Everyone gave equal effort. Not only did we all play our best, we put everything we had on the floor, Burak said. “It was definitely our most rewarding game.”
Leading up to the final in the 16-team women’s draw, the Skyhawks crushed the St. Thomas Aquinas Thunder of Spruce Grove 92-49 on the strength of Annich’s season-high 33 points, pounded out a resounding 75-40 win over the Wetaskiwin Sabres, ranked fourth in 3A, and humbled the Paul Kane Blues 79-48 in the semifinal.
“For the most part our defence has been real strong and our communication has really picked up. We’re also starting to rebound more and get in there more offensively,” said Downing, 15.
The Grade 10 guard/winger was a major contributor to the team’s success at Showdown with valuable minutes and steady point production. Her 11 points against Paul Kane was second only the team-leading 18 by Annich (three three-pointers) and Heavener.
“It was a solid effort pretty much all around. We went hard the whole game. We lapsed a little bit on our defence at times but we got right back into it,” Downing said.
Ahead by only two after the first quarter, the Skyhawks outscored the Blues 24-12 to lead by 14 at halftime. After three quarters it was 58-44.
“We had a little bit of a run [16-4 to start the second quarter] and that’s when we thought we could do it and we kept pushing through,” Downing said.
The Skyhawks were coming off a stellar showing against Wetaskiwin, a potential opponent in next month’s provincials at Medicine Hat. Lydon and Heavener did most of the damage offensively.
“It was nice to beat them by quite a bit. We played really hard and our team defence was really good. There was lots of communication,” Downing said.
In league play Monday the Skyhawks stunned the O’Leary Spartans 61-55 in O’Leary’s gym. Both teams were 5-0 going into the first-place tilt. It also marked the first time the Skyhawks defeated O’Leary, ranked second in 4A, since moving into premier from the city conference. The biggest win of the season left the Skyhawks with an overall record of 14-2.
After trailing by six at halftime the Skyhawks clawed their way back from a 15-point deficit in the third quarter. Back-to-back clutch threes by Downing and Heavener pushed the Skyhawks to within six of the leaders. In the fourth quarter they outscored O’Leary 20-5, led by Downing’s eight points. Annich finished the win with 15. Heavener added 14 and Downing contributed 11. Lydon and Hucul had eight apiece.
“We’ve been focusing on them for a long time, every since the REB tournament [when O’Leary beat the Skyhawks by two in the third place game],” said Burak, 15. “We obviously respect O’Leary because they are good but [John] Dedrick, our coach, always says to respect but never fear your opponent and we try and stick to that philosophy.”
Today at 4:45 p.m. the Skyhawks host the Salisbury Sabres (3-4).
FOUL SHOTS: In the women’s consolation final at Showdown, the Morinville Wolves downed the Daysland Darls 64-31. Morinville is an honourable mention in 3A and Daysland is ranked third in 1A.