The rise of the St. Albert Skyhawks to contender status is gaining momentum.
The No. 9-ranked 4A women’s basketball team in Alberta is headed in the right direction with the metro Edmonton league playoffs starting at the end of the month and provincials are six weeks away.
“When we play our best basketball we can compete with the top teams in the province,” said Abby Morrison, a Grade 12 game breaker at guard with the 8-0 division one Skyhawks. “We’ve struggled with consistency and we’re finally getting that under our belts a bit and we’re able to run with it.”
The Jasper Place Rebels and Paul Kane Blues are also undefeated in eight games in league play and in the 4A rankings are listed first and second, respectively.
With three games left before the quarter-finals tip-off, the Skyhawks host Paul Kane on Monday at 5 p.m. and Jasper Place, last year’s 4A provincial gold medallist and winner of the last two division one championships, Feb. 21 at 6:30 p.m.
“It’s going to be the hardest two weeks of our regular season match-ups just with it being the No. 1 and the No. 2 ranked teams,” Morrison said.
“We’re going work as hard as we can,” she added. “We’re going to beat teams by outworking them.”
The most captivating high school sports rivalry in St. Albert will pack the stands at the SkyDome with rabid fans of all ages.
“PK is a very veteran team. Lots of girls (eight) are returning players and they have their stuff down. They’re a very, very strong team,” said Morrison, who was injured when a depleted squad of Skyhawks lost the first confrontation of the season against Paul Kane, 60-33 in the semifinal of the 20th annual Mike Dea Classic on Dec. 1 at St. Francis Xavier High School.
“It was the first tournament of the year and we were playing with basically almost an entire Grade 10 starting lineup. It was just pure youth. It was the first experience for players at that level of basketball in high school,” Morrison said. “Monday we’re going to come out really hard. We’re really excited as a team to play them and show them what we can actually do.
“We have girls that can just attack the rim like crazy. We have bodies that crash. Our post player, Mimi (Sigue, a Grade 10 starter), rebounds like no other.”
The Skyhawks are coming off a successful showing at the Lethbridge Collegiate Institute Green and Gold last weekend. The 75-59 loss to the No. 4-ranked 4A Magrath Pandas was followed by wins of 54-50 against the No. 3-ranked 4A Bishop Carroll Cardinals of Calgary and 101-66 against the Medicine Hat Kwahommies in the consolation final. Sigue was named a tournament all-star.
“That was a really, real good tournament for us just because it’s the strongest teams out of the south who we don’t get to see very often,” Morrison said. “We definitely struggled in the first game against Magrath but against Bishop Carroll we came out and played the basketball that I know we can and we came out with the win which is exactly what I’m hoping we do the rest of the year.”
The recent luxury of five substitutes – Paul Kane has the same number of coaches as the Skyhawks have bench players – instead of the eight-player rotation for most of the season has coincided with the team’s improved play while peaking towards the playoffs and provincials.
“In my Grade 10 and 11 years we’ve always had a short bench and always struggling with injuries and this year I was one of the players that had to learn what it’s like to sit on the bench and watch and now it’s a good experience to have some subs,” said Morrison, who made her season debut in the last league game before the exam break in January after a lengthy recovery process from a lower-back ailment.
“I got injured last June and we didn’t find out until the end of the summer that it was an injury that needed to be rested. I had played with it and then it got to the point that I couldn’t play with it anymore,” said Morrison, who played on the same U17 provincial team as Alesha and Ella Stanley of Paul Kane at the 2017 Canada Summer Games. “It was definitely a hard five months for me just because I’ve never had to sit out that long in my entire basketball career but I’m feeling really good now. I’m playing as hard as I can and it’s not hurting so I’m real excited to be back.”
Morrison, 17, is the straw that stirs the drink for the Skyhawks while leading by example. She joins Nicole Dea, a first-year full-time senior team Skyhawk, as the only Grade 12s on the roster that was reduced to 10 players after the loss of two returnees to injures before the season tipped off.
“We have a lot of raw youth talent and a lot of hard workers and I think we just needed a leadership voice out there to kind of get us into our offence which we struggled with at the beginning and now that we have that leadership voice out there I feel things are flowing a lot better,” said Morrison, one of four players remaining from the 2017 division one semifinalists and 4A provincial consolation winners for fifth place as the No. 7 seed in the 16-team tournament.
St. Albert Catholic High School is a 3A-level school and the Skyhawks are competing in their fifth 4A season after a record-setting four consecutive 3A provincial banners and in 2014 they were 4A bronze medallists.
Morrison is also the first Skyhawk since Marinya Marcichiw to commit to the Alberta Pandas.
“My first basketball camp ever was a Pandas’ basketball camp so for as long as I can remember I wanted to go play at the University of Alberta and that’s what I’ve been working towards ever since I stepped foot on the court and it feels really good. It feels like I’m finally doing that plan I had set out,” Morrison said.
FREE THROWS: The Skyhawks kept pace with Paul Kane and Jasper Place in the division one standings in Thursday’s 76-30 blowout of the Spruce Grove Panthers (2-6) at the SkyDome.
The top three scorers for the Skyhawks were a trio of Grade 10s: Teá DeMong with 25 points, Kamryn DeKlerk with 17 and Sigue with 14.
The Skyhawks cruised to leads of 23-3 after the first quarter, 46-15 at halftime and 60-26 after three quarters against a team that would have trouble beating the undefeated division three Bellerose Bulldogs.