The G.W. Grizzlies are one win away from their second consecutive trip to provincials

The G.W. Grizzlies are one win away from their second consecutive trip to provincials

Grizzlies gear up for provincial run

If they’re being perfectly honest with you, even the G.W. Graham Grizzlies will tell you they didn’t figure to end up where they are. Last year’s unexpected ride to AA provincials was fun.The first appearance in school history was one that required a boatload of last-second fundraising because no one saw it coming. No one thought a roster heavy on athleticism but light on experience would grow up so fast. They did so on the backs of Micah Cockrill and Chris Thomson, twin towers who wreaked havoc on opposing teams.Coming into 2011, both were gone, graduating to the CIS ranks with the University of British Columbia-Okanagan (Cockrill) and Lethbridge (Thomson). Expectations were tempered.The Grizzlies would still be good, but it would likely be a case of taking one step back to take two steps forward. Star power is everything in high school hoops, where one or two players can carry a team to dizzying heights.The Grizzlies didn’t know if they had any as the 2011 season dawned.Fast forward three months and everything has changed. G.W. Graham rolled through the regular season unbeaten (10-0) while averaging 91.4 points per game.They won the Fraser Valley East league outright, finishing three games ahead of second place D.W. Poppy (Langley). The Grizzlies swatted aside Surrey’s Pacific Academy 83–69 in their playoff opener on Saturday.Should G.W. Graham beat Delta’s Delview secondary school in a Thursday night game at Surrey’s Holy Cross regional high school, they will secure their second straight provincial trip.And this time, they will head to Kamloops as the top ranked team in the province, favourites to win it all.“I thought this season was going to be a lot tougher, because Micah and Chris really helped us out last year,” admitted standout guard Fran Armengual. “But I think we’re at the point now where we have a really good chance to pull it off. We can win a provincial title if we keep working hard.”Armengual and teammate Lucas Mannes have stepped to the forefront as offensive leaders for GWG, replacing the star power lost when Thomson and Cockrill left.Both showed glimpses of potential last year, and both were challenged by coach Jake Mouritzen to step it up this year.“Last year I was not confident at all, not the type of guy who saw himself as an offensive player,” Armengual said. “I think I can drive by a guy this year, where last year I was worried that he would take the ball away.”Mannes had to develop that confidence as well. He’s now at the point where he relishes having the ball in crunch time.“I take pride being the guy who makes a big shot or comes up with a big steal at the right time,” Mannes said. “A good pass or a good rebound, I live for those close moments at the end of the game. Last year, my job would have been to give it to Micah or Chris and watch them. This year, it’s me, and I take pride in that.”Armengual and Mannes are in the gym just about every weekday morning from 7 to 8 a.m., shooting hundreds of shots.“We try to get 500 shots each, so we just rebound for each other in the morning, and whenever we can after the afternoon practice too,” Mannes said. “If Fran shoots 100 three balls, he’s probably going to make 80 or 90 on a good day.”That sniper-like ability to drain the treys has proven devastating to opponents this year. Few things are more demoralizing than seeing a tie game turn into a three-point deficit with one shot.“I don’t like it when guys sink threes on me, and I know how devastating it can be when I make one,” Armengual said. “I hear their coaches yelling at them and it feels good. It’s my favourite part of the game and I’m good at it because I put the time in.”Mannes is almost as lethal from the outside. And where Armengual  (five-foot-seven) might be slightly quicker, Mannes (five-foot-11) has the benefit of height.An off-season growth spurt gave him an extra two-and-a-half inches — a surprisingly big advantage in high school hoops.As point guards go, he’s big, but he’s retained the quickness that makes him effective when he slashes into the paint.“I found this year that I have a lot more moves that I can go to because I can go down to the post because I’m a bit taller,” Mannes noted. “It helps offensively and defensively. We’re a smaller team, so if I have to, I can take a bigger guy and help the team that way.”That GWG’s top guns are guards fits perfectly with the overall philosophy — Mouritzen has these boys playing a run and gun game that leaves opponents exhausted.Mannes and Armengual are the perfect players to push the ball up court.“We do it all game and everyone knows it, but they still have a hard time stopping it,” Mannes said. “Take even a split second break defensively and we’re making a layup on your hoop. We think we’re the team to beat in AA.”Confident words.Maybe even cocky.But no one’s been able to stop them yet, so they’re also justified.Follow the boys basketball journey online at www.bcboysbasketball.com.