A basketball championship for the ages

Two years ago, the provincial girls’ high school basketball championship was the last major varsity sporting event to play to its conclusion before the COVID-19 pandemic hit and shut competition down for more than an entire school year.

The Terry Fox Ravens, from Port Coquitlam reached the final. But the team was young and inexperienced, comprised mostly of Grade 10s riding the emotions of playing for a teammate who’d been felled by cancer. They were blown out by an older, bigger, tougher opponent.

It was a tough game to shoot. My heart ached for the players as I focused my lens on the bench for some sort of photo that would show the emotion of their struggle.

Fast forward two years — and one lost season; those sophomores are now seniors and they have the strength and athleticism to carry the memory of their teammate onto the basketball court with conviction. They play their way to the number three ranking in the province, but their ascent is largely lost on me.

Ongoing COVID restrictions cancelled tournament play that is the bread and butter of getting out to shoot some high school hoops during my regular work schedule this winter, as well as a ban on spectators at indoor events at schools made it difficult to follow the season.

So my first encounter with the team since their miserable championship loss was the semifinal of this year’s provincial tournament. The players, so overmatched and humbled two years ago, now played with resolve and tenacity that pulsed off the court. It’s like they were on a mission.

That the only thing standing between the fulfillment of their task would be the top-ranked team in the province all season that happens to be from the other side of town, the Riverside Rapids, added a whole other layer of drama and intrigue to what was to unfold at centre court at the Langley Events Centre.

The showdown didn’t disappoint.

The championship game may have been one of the most intense high school basketball games I’ve ever covered.

While the lead on the scoreboard changed only twice, the ebbs and flows of momentum were epic. The fire in the belly of both teams to prevail burned hot: Terry Fox playing for a beloved teammate seared into their hearts; Riverside playing for a longtime coach who’d been to the final before but never won.

The atmosphere in the gym was electric; it’s rare for two teams from the same city to meet for the provincial championship.

In the end, Fox held on, upsetting the Rapids by two points. It’s the school’s first senior girls provincial basketball championship.