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Making history: SAMMS girls basketball bring home bronze from provincials

‘We are amazingly proud of them,’: principal Barry Squires
Sir Alexander Mackenzie Secondary School girls senior girls basketball team plays against Pacific Christian School during the single A provincials in Langley. . (Mark Steffens Vancouver Sports Pictures)

A Bella Coola Valley seniors girls basketball team made history for the community winning third place at provincials in Langley this month.

“We are amazingly proud of them,” said Sir Alexander Mackenzie Secondary School principal Barry Squires. “They have done an incredible job.”

The win is a “big deal,” he added.

In the four games they played, they won against White Rock Christian, 69-36, won against St. Anne’s Academy 53-36, lost the third game to Pacific Christian 73-63 and won the fourth and final game against Credo Christian 49-41.

“I do not believe we have ever had a team that medalled at provincials. We’ve had individuals, but never a team. Our athletic director Alex Boileau has been telling me that,” Squires said.

He noted he did not want to put too much pressure on the team, but next year he is expecting them to also do very well.

“They play hard as a team, and of course Ryan Parr the coach and his wife Wilma and Lori George going as the assistant coach was amazing,” he said, adding only one of the players was in Grade 12 and she has been unable to play this year due to an injury.

When the team arrived home after the long drive from Langley on Sunday, March 3, there was a pop-up celebration at the school in conjunction with the community to welcome them home.

“There were community members, drummers and singers on site, the school was decorated to welcome them back so that was fantastic,” Squires said.

A bigger celebration is planned for Wednesday, April 3 at 1:30 p.m. at the school and the community, parents and anyone else interested is welcome, he added.

There are 85 students enrolled at SAMSS and the team was playing against schools with far larger populations and far more competition.

BC School Sports confirmed in order to qualify for single A, a school must have 78 or less girls in Grades 11 and 12.

“Most schools would be playing a minimum of 20 or 30 games I would guess,” Squires said. “We only get to play outside the community a handful of games every year. To be able to go to zones and dominate and win all our games and then get third at provincials was great. We are happy here.”

Originally from the East Coast, Squires said he coached basketball in the past at a small college, but has not since working in the Bella Coola Valley.

Members of the team gathered for a video interview over messenger on Thursday, March 7, with some of them sharing insights about competing at provincials.

Mariah Hall said exposure to new teams was one of the things she enjoyed the most, rather than just playing against the same teams at home.

Glory Gordon said for the most part they prepared for the provincials playing games against the school’s junior boys team.

While they had seen some of teams play at a tournament in Abbotsford in February, they did not have the chance to play some of them until the provincials.

Annika Parr said in the final game against Credo Christian she remembers just trying to win.

“There was lots of passing the ball,” she said of what led to the win.

Annika’s twin sister Ayanna Parr expects the team to come back stronger next year. Only one of the players will be leaving because she is graduating and the rest of the players will be staying on.

SAMSS did not have a junior girls team this year, but the plan is to make one next year at the school, Ayanna said.

At provincials, the SAMSS team was the only team comprised of all First Nations players and they noticed very few other First Nations players on the floor.

Kashlyn Mack praised coach Parr.

“He knows all of us well and how we play,” Kashlyn said. “He is good at knowing where to play us and when to play us. I feel like he’s a good coach.”

Two of the younger players, Tiara Milton and Alaina Legault, are in Grade 8 and 9 and said they were probably the youngest players on the court.

“It was a challenge but fun at the same time,” said Tiara.

None of the players had any serious injuries during the provincials, but all the starters arrived for the tournament recuperating from Influenza A.

They were in recovery mode but it was very difficult at first, Ryan said.

The team left Wednesday, Feb. 14 from home for the 12-hour bus ride and played the first game Thursday.

Shaylen Moody, who is also the team’s cultural singer and drummer, said when they arrived home it was great to see everyone there waiting to welcome them.

For the return trip they drove as far as 100 Mile Saturday and the rest of the way home on Sunday.

Sky Squinas, the team’s only Grade 12 player, accompanied the team on the bench this year as an injury kept her away from playing.

“I had conversations with her throughout the term,” coach Parr said. “It’s hard being a competitive player like she is and wanting to play but can’t.”

He praised Sky’s dedication to the team and said during the bronze medal game at provincials he could see the energy of the SAMSS team dropping and the Credo team pushing to take the victory.

“I looked at Sky and said, ‘I don’t know what to do,’ and she piped up and started chanting for the girls to get their energy up and took that leadership role on the bench. I was very thankful for that at that really important time in the game,” he said.

To put things into perspective, Ryan said they played Unity Christian, the winners of the provincials, a few weeks before at a tournament in Abbotsford and Credo were ranked number one at the time.

During that game, Ryan thought if his team could keep the scoreboard close it would be successful.

“We ended up actually leading by as many as 10 points going into the third and we ended up losing by five points,” he recalled. “The significance of that is we found out later that Unity went up against Pacific Christian in the finals at provincials.”

Credo was also at the Abbotsford tournament, but the SAMSS team did not get to play them then.

Winning against Credo for the bronze game then was an accomplishment.

“We were so close to being provincial champs that we can taste it,” he said.

Ryan said Annika and Ayanna won first team all-star awards and along with Kashlyn also won player of the game awards.

Lori George was invited to go to provincials as assistant coach because she and Ryan started the journey to provincials together, but actually coaching the SAMSS boys team.

“Our paths took different directions. Lori went to a different school and I worked with the boys team until it got to a point where I was doing both - boys and girls - and I had to make a decision,” Ryan said.

Deciding to work with his twins and the girls team, he handed over the boys team last year.

“I thought it would be a good opportunity for Lori to come back and fulfill that dream of making it to provincials together,” Ryan said.

Parr grew up in Bella Coola and played for the SAMSS team himself.

“This is really special for me because it’s my school. We never went to provincials when I played. We were never good enough,” he said, adding his provincial glory happened in fast-pitch.

All members of the SAMSS girls team will be competing at the upcoming Junior All-Native Tournament in Terrace March 17 - 22.

They won’t be representing the school, but will be playing for the Nuxalk Nation and coached by Angel Mack and Annie Pootlass.

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SAMSS seniors girls basketball team emerge with third place at the 1A provincials held in Langley. Back row coach Ryan Parr, from left, Kashlyn Mack, Ayanna Parr, Cierra Rurka, Nevaeh Squinas, Sky Squinas, Annika Parr, assistant coach Lori George, Tiara Milton, from left front row, Alaina Legault, Shaylen Moody, Camilla Saunders, Glory Gordon and Mariah Hall. (Wilma Parr photo)
Mariah Hall of SAMMS with the ball during provincials in Langley. (Mark Steffens Vancouver Sports Pictures)
Nevaeh Squinas of the SAMSS team during at the provincials in Langley. (Mark Steffens Vancouver Sports Pictures)

Monica Lamb-Yorski

About the Author: Monica Lamb-Yorski

A B.C. gal, I was born in Alert Bay, raised in Nelson, graduated from the University of Winnipeg, and wrote my first-ever article for the Prince Rupert Daily News.
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