Brookswood coach Sarah Cameron paid the ultimate compliment to the Walnut Grove Gators.
“They are a very well-balanced team. Each time we have played them, it has been something a little different,” Cameron said.
Cameron and her Bobcats squad had come out on the short end of a 55-40 score on Saturday night to the Gators in an all-Langley final at the Fraser Valley junior girls basketball championships. The championship round was held over the weekend at Sardis Secondary.
“That is where our strength comes from,” said Walnut Grove coach Grant Inkster. “We are just going to play the way we play and we have no idea who is going to step up.
“Other teams are targeting to stop key players so if you have an alternative plan or another girl to step up, that can be to your advantage.”
In Saturday’s final, the Gators raced out to a 10-0 lead and from there, kept the ’Cats at bay, never allowing Brookswood to cut much into the advantage.
Walnut Grove entered the Fraser Valley championships as the No. 3 seed and they crushed their first three opponents, beating No. 30 Holy Cross 62-30, grounding the No. 19 Mountain Eagles 71-29 and then prevailing 62-35 over the No. 6 Lord Tweedsmuir Panthers 62-35.
The Gators did face a stiff test in the semifinals against the No. 2 Yale Lions.
The Lions erased a 14-point deficit in the second half to take a two-point lead in the fourth quarter before Walnut Grove rallied to win by a bucket, 40-38.
Brookswood was the fifth seed and faced a much stiffer test in making it to the Fraser Valley final.
They beat No. 28 Enver Creek 69-28 in the opening round, but the rest of their games were much closer.
The ’Cats topped the No.12 MEI Eagles 43-38 in the round of 16 and beat No. 13 St. John Brebeuf 41-35 in the quarter-finals. And in the semifinals, Brookswood pulled off the upset, knocking out No. 1 Riverside 42-36 to set up the all-Langley final.
But for the third time in as many weeks — including in the Langley District championship game — Walnut Grove would best the Bobcats.
“We struggled to get into a groove offensively the first half, we just weren’t able to put the ball in the hoop when we needed to,” Cameron said. “Seemed to be a little bit of Grade 9 nerves.”
The ’Cats roster has just one Grade 10 player.
“(And) I think by the time you get to the Saturday game, after you have been battling all week, fatigue kind of sets in a little bit. But we are definitely proud of the girls. It was a great learning experience for us.”
Inkster used the Brookswood team as an example for his players.
“We have nothing but kudos for Brookswood. The way their girls played the semifinal against Riverside, I used the Brookswood girls as an example to our girls of what you have to do at this level.”
Walnut Grove is on quite the run, themselves, having not lost in more than a month, after a middling start to their season.
But since they won a provincial qualifying tournament in Cowichan in mid-January, they have not lost.
“From that point on, they had a different sense of belief in themselves in what they could do,” Inkster said. “(And) with each outing, they seem to get more and more confident and more and more competitive.”
Walnut Grove’s Fania Taylor earned most valuable player honours, while Anneke Cairnie and Juliana Jacobs were both named to the all-star team. Brookswood’s Quinn Jasper was also an all-star selection.
Both teams now prepare for the BC junior girls provincial basketball championships, which run Feb. 28 to March 3 at the Langley Events Centre. Walnut Grove is seeded first for the 32-team event while Brookswood is right behind at No. 2.
Langley Fundamental was also competing at the Fraser Valley championships and the 15th-ranked Titans won 45-44 over No. 18 Robert Bateman in the opening round but lost 72-33 to No. 2 Yale in the round of round of 16.