At the start of the season, head coach Darren Rowell was not sure what to expect.
His Walnut Grove Gators senior girls basketball team — featuring six Grade 11s, four Grade 10s and no Grade 12 players — was young but talented.
As juniors, they had finished second last year at the B.C. provincial championships.
But this was a senior basketball team in the loaded Fraser Valley, including playing in the same division as perennial powerhouse Brookswood, Lord Tweedsmuir, Panorama Ridge and Sullivan Heights.
“I thought we had an outside chance to get to the B.C.’s but we were just looking to get better as a team and get used to senior basketball, just the competitiveness from junior. We really exceeded our expectations,” Rowell said.
“Our league was unbelievable but it really prepared us for the Fraser Valleys and hopefully the B.C.’s.”
The Gators won bronze at the Fraser Valley championships, losing 95-69 to Brookswood in the semifinals on Friday night before bouncing back with a 71-62 win over Panorama Ridge on Saturday night.
The championships were held at Brookswood Secondary and Walnut Grove entered as the third seed.
Rowell admitted he thought a top-three finish at Valleys was realistic, but he also knew missing the provincial championships altogether could happen.
Tavia Rowell and Jessica Wisotzki were named second team all-stars.
And the coach was especially proud of how some of the other players have risen to the challenge as the season progressed.
“We have had a few people really step up and take on some unique roles,” he said.
“It has been neat to see some girls step up and fill some voids that we had.”
Jenna Stea has provided phenomenal defence, forcing other teams to alter their attack while Leah Fortin has developed into a rebounding and defensive specialist.
Rowell also credited Natalie Rathler for turning the bronze medal game around.
The Gators were down 20-14 after one quarter but after Rathler dove to the ground for a loose ball, the team’s energy level rose.
“She led the team in energy and the whole team started to play harder after that. That was the difference, defensive energy,” Rowell said.
Walnut Grove will now compete at next week’s B.C. provincial championships from March 1 to 4 at the Langley Events Centre.