For a second straight year the Sardis secondary school Falcons will battle for a provincial senior boys basketball title.
The championship chase starts Wednesday at the Langley Events Centre, with the Falcons and Kelowna Owls squaring off in the provincial tournament opener.
“We played them this year and won by 10 in our home gym,” said Sardis coach Kyle Graves. “But they’re a really hard working team and they have some of the best Grade 10 players in the province.”
The Falcons didn’t make it easy on themselves getting here. After walloping Heritage Park 78-62 in their Fraser Valley playoff opener, Sardis stumbled in a 76-46 loss to the Gleneagle Talons.
That left them in do-or-die territory, with two Abbotsford opponents standing between them and a berth in the 69th annual provincial championships. They faced the Yale Lions last Thursday, and had to rally from 20 down to escape with a 74-73 win.
“This year, we’ve been favourites all the way, where last year we were in the easier position of underdog,” Graves said. “I think they just hit a snag against Yale where they were mentally tired. They really had to bring themselves back from the dead in that one.”
They thumped the W.J. Mouat Hawks 96-82 the next night, finally securing the provincial spot they’ve seemed pre-destined for before this season even began.
“I’d consider it an amazing accomplishment making it two years in a row,” Graves said. “Only three or four teams are back from last year’s tournament, so that says a lot about our group. It’s been a lot of hard work building up to this moment.”
With a lot of work to come.
The Owls are a daunting opening opponent.
“But as long as we match their work ethic, I think our experience should be the difference,” Graves noted. “And I’m glad we didn’t get the 8:30 a.m. game this year. This one’s at 10, which means our players can sleep in their own beds and pretty much get up when they usually do.”
A win against the Owls would send the Falcons on to a game against Gleneagle, with that playoff loss sticking in their minds.
“We imploded in that one game, but we know then very well,” Graves said. “We beat them twice last year and once earlier this year. They’ll be tough, but I’m happy to stay away from Tamanawis, who I didn’t really want to see until the semi-finals.”
Graves views the Wildcats as a lock for the final four, with a team that’s played together year-round for the last two years.
“Then you have the Sir Winston Churchill Bulldogs (Vancouver) on the other side, and they’ve been ranked No. 1 for most of the year,” Graves said. “The Holy Cross Crusaders (Surrey) are this year’s evil private school, with a lot of good players showing up on their doorstep.”
Graves has said all along that his team can go toe-to-toe with anyone talent wise. His big guns are well known — Hayden Lejeune, Eric Rogers and Cam Servatius will have to be at the top of their games. But it’s an under-the-radar guy who could be the true difference maker.
“Colin Kellington, not many people know about him yet, but he’s knocked down five threes over the last couple games,” Graves said. “He hit a free throw with three seconds left to get us past Yale, which is really something, for a young kid to do that in that situation.”
Team captain Grayden Northey could also tip the scales.
“He really stepped up in the elimination games, hitting clutch free throws and playing great defence,” the coach said. “He really wants it and he’s taking it personally to lead the team.”
Follow all the games online at bcboysbasketball.com.