Jasper Place – The Sturgeon Spirits are on the verge of something special as the metro Edmonton division two senior women’s champions.
A victory Thursday against the Oscar Romero Ravens would send the Spirits to their first basketball provincials in school history.
Tipoff is 5:30 p.m. at Namao and the winner advances to Friday’s zone final to determine the No. 1 and No. 2 metro Edmonton teams at the 3A provincials starting March 15 at Cochrane.
“It’s very emotional for us right now,” said co-captain Samantha Runyon after the Spirits toppled the Harry Ainlay Titans 60-51 in Friday’s division two final. “We just have to keep composed and keep trying and everything will line up in place.”
The third Alberta Schools’ Athletic Association rankings of the season have the Spirits slotted at No. 6 and the Ravens are No. 8.
The St. Peter The Apostle Spartans, 4-8 in division one, are No. 1 and are expected to play in the zone final.
The Spirits are 12-1 and one of the victories was 57-43 over the visiting Ravens (8-4) in league play Jan. 15.
“We always play our hardest. We play like everything is on the line,” Runyon said. “We’ve played as a team very well through the whole season no matter what.”
The biggest win of the bunch so far was handing Ainlay its first loss after 12 wins.
“It’s awesome,” said Runyon, a Grade 12 forward who popped in 19 points, including nine in the first half. “We’ve showed that we worked our hardest and we proved that we were the team that needed to win.”
Visit www.stalbertgazette.com to view the team’s championship banner picture.
It was sweet revenge for the Spirits after falling 38-32 to Ainlay on Feb. 12 at Namao. The halftime score was 24-18, compared to 30-27 for the Spirits in the final.
“We just put in a lot more effort. We rebounded way better. We set up our offences way better. It just worked a lot better than it did the first time we played them,” Runyon said. “We played as a team and we finally clicked. We had better team chemistry.”
The Spirits were winners of seven in a row before Ainlay stopped Sturgeon in its tracks.
“We were on kind of a hot streak and we weren’t playing to our full potential. We thought we had it so I think this time we didn’t assume we had anything. We just played our hardest and put everything on the line,” said Shelby Pierce, a Grade 11 forward.
The rematch was staged on neutral territory at Jasper Place.
“We thought we had home court advantage last time we played them with more fans,” Pierce said. “Today we just came in knowing that it could go both ways but we also knew we had our fans and we had our team to back us up on the bench and we just all supported each other.”
The Spirits outscored Ainlay 16-15 in the second quarter as Ashley Gaulden produced seven consecutive points.
“First half is always tough. It’s tense with nerves. We just weren’t making shots,” Pierce said. “After halftime we kind of settled into it and started having some fun and started knocking down shots.”
Pierce, 16, tacked up nine of her 18 points in the fourth quarter and they were all in a row to start off the last 10-minute period after Jenessa Doctor sank a three-pointer with four seconds left in the third quarter to cut Ainlay’s lead to two points at 41-39.
The TSN turning point, according to Pierce, “was when we hit our first three of the second half (by Doctor.)”
Pierce’s nine-point run ended with Ainlay’s basket with about six minutes to play.
As the game wound down the Spirits maintained a healthy lead and in the late stages Runyon recorded the team’s last five points, including a three-point play with 69 seconds left to make it 58-49.
“No matter what the score is we always stay composed and we always know that if we’re losing we can bring it back and we can still win. We just keep trying and keep setting up our offences,” said Runyon, 17. “We also practice really hard. We practice like it’s a game to keep focused and get ready for the next game.”
Both teams were shooting for their first championships since the metro and Edmonton public leagues merged in the 2013/14 season and the last senior women’s basketball banner for the Spirits was 2013.
The Spirits are hooping it up with four Grade 10s, five Grade 11s and three Grade 12s.
“We have some rookies that really caught on to the systems and they just clicked and we also have a Grade 10 starter (Haylee Sidor),” said Pierce, the Rugby Alberta U16 women’s player of the year in 2017. “There is also no drama. Our coach (Kerri Meadows) says we treat each other like family. We spend so much time together and we know each other so well.”