Winners of four straight, the Sardis secondary school senior boys basketball team heads into this week’s BC AAA provincial tournament with momentum and swagger.
Whether that’s enough to get wins against the best of the best in high school hoops is anyone’s guess.
But win or lose, the Falcons will be making history.
It is hard to believe, but according to coach Kyle Graves, this is the first Falcon team to ever qualify for provincials.
This year’s tournament takes place at the Langley Events Centre.
“We’re a big school that’s had great players and coaches, but the timing and right mix hasn’t been there through the years,” the bench boss said.
Graves himself never went farther than the Fraser Valley tourney when he was a dominant big man for Sardis.
From day one, Graves thought this year’s group might be the one to finally break through.
One elite player will take you places, and Graves had returning big man Hayden Lejeune.
Two elite players make you a contender, and Eric Rogers teamed with Lejeune to give Sardis a lethal one-two punch.
Graves thought he had the supporting cast, with guys like Jason Kroeker, Cam Servatius and Jordan Vandrimmlen chipping in offensively and defensively. But a coach never knows for sure until he sees his team on the floor.
“We had everything a team wants with athleticism, height and skill, and at the beginning of the year we sat down and said that we were making provincials,” Graves said. “The boys put in the work all year, a group of 14 who really pushed themselves. They really ran with the idea that they would be making history.”
Things almost came off the rails in Fraser Valleys, where the Falcons stumbled, losing two of their first three games.
“We played W.J. Mouat and Walnut Grove, and both of them just killed us,” Vandrimmlen said. “At halftime of the Mouat game, I went into the change room and yelled at everybody and made a couple guys cry. Over the next few games, they looked back at that game and said, ‘We’re not going to let that happen again.’”
Still, after a third loss, 75-64 to Enver Creek on Feb. 22, Sardis had their backs against the wall.
Three nights later they stayed alive with an 82-61 win over North Delta.
On February 28, they faced Lord Tweedsmuir with a provincial berth on the line. They came up with an 84-70 win, then bounced Terry Fox (85-69) and Enver Creek (70-57) to improve their provincial seeding.
“Every game that’s do or die, it’s like we’re a different team,” Vandrimmlen noted. “Desperation maybe? Now that we’re in provincials, I don’t think we’re facing the same pressure. We’re really excited, walking the halls and high fiving each other. We’ve accomplished one of our goals, and now we’ve just got to go play basketball and see what happens.”
Vandrimmlen has played for Sardis the last three years, and has seen the program ascend from bottom dweller to championship contender.
In his first year, the team didn’t win much, and the home-court audience consisted of family members and custodial staff.
In his second year, the team improved and the people noticed. The gym wasn’t packed, but b-ball was on the radar.
This year, the place rocked at every home game.
“Everyone in the school has been talking about us this year, and they’ve been coming to all of our games and making a lot of noise,” Vandrimmlen smiled. “With us making provincials, they’re setting up a couple fan buses and it looks like we’re going to have a big cheering section. The fans have no idea how much they help us and fire us up.”
The Falcons open at 8:30 a.m. tomorrow morning, facing the Burnaby South Rebels.
If all goes well, Sardis hopes to get another crack at W.J. Mouat or Walnut Grove.
“I want to play Walnut Grove. All the boys want to play and beat Walnut Grove,” Vandrimmlen said. “So I’m hoping we play them in our second game and we get an upset win.”
“We’ll have to pull off a big upset against one of the top three (Walnut Grove, W.J. Mouat or White Rock Christian), but the boys have set a goal of a top four finish, which is realistic,” Graves added. “We have all the tools to knock off one of those teams, and it has happened. It’s not impossible, but it would be a major upset.”
Win or lose, Vandrimmlen plans to take it all in, savouring his last precious moments in high school basketball.
“It’s special to know my last basketball game, maybe ever, is going to be in a Sardis jersey in front of a couple thousand fans,” he said. “To go out on the big stage like that is pretty cool.”
Find all the tournament info online at bcboysbasketball.com and check next week’s Chilliwack Progress sports section to see how the local lads did.