The Vanier Spirits knew that to have a chance at winning the Moose Jaw High School Athletic Association senior girls basketball championship on Tuesday night, they were going to have turn in a solid defensive showing against one of the highest-scoring teams in the league.
But not even in their wildest dreams could they have expected how well things would go.
The Spirits gave the Peacock Toilers fits defensively right from the opening tip-off, limiting their chances in the paint and forcing shots from the outside. That led to an early Vanier lead, and they’d never let up.
In the end, Vanier would claim their first Moose Jaw senior basketball title since 2010, thanks to a 73-35 victory over Peacock in front of a raucous crowd of 600-plus in the Sask Polytech gymnasium.
“We came through, all of our hard work just paid off,” said Spirits Grade 12 Kate Waldenberger, who was one of the Spirits’ top scorers with 14 points. “Everything we’ve been doing in practices, during tournaments, we’ve been working toward one goal and I think we accomplished it. Now we’re off to regionals and trying to get to Hoopla… But I have no words, it was just such a great game.”
The Toilers were the favourites heading into the contest having put up a 7-1 regular-season record compared to Vanier’s 6-2 mark. That one loss on Peacock’s ledger was to the Spirits, though, and they’d been in battles outside of league play on top of it all.
As a result, a close, hard-fought game is what they were preparing for.
“I was expecting one of our games like we played at a tournament where it was double overtime and it would be really close, quite honestly, not a blow-out kind of game,” Waldenberger said.
Instead, what the Spirits got was an 18-11 lead out of the first quarter and 38-20 edge at halftime, with their hard work in their own end proving a difficult nut to crack for Peacock all night.
“It was so important, you have to stop them, and especially a team like that,” Waldenberger said. “Offence wins games but defence wins championships and that’s what we did.
We really tried to use a zone defence to try and stop their drives because that’s what they’re great at. So we pushed them to shoot and it paid off.”
The hard work to shut down the paint was all by design, said Vanier head coach Christa Lapointe.
“The girls played really well, we play man and zone, but we knew that against Peacock we had to shut down the paint on a few girls and thankfully we have a few quick players who were able to help do that,” she said.
“But in any game, defence is key. Some games you’re hot offensively or not, but defence is something you have control over, it’s work hard and grit. The girls bought in, worked hard as a unit and a team and it’s nice to see to all come together like that.”
Vanier ended up saving their best in the game for last, outscoring Peacock 17-4 in the final quarter as the Toilers pushed to get back into the game.
The title had been a long time coming, too -- prior to Peacock’s decade of dominance, the Spirits had last won a city championship in 2010, back when Vanier assistant coach Alisha Amey and the likes of Kehlsie Crone went on a tear that included pair of provincial championships.
Waverly Demassi led Vanier with 19 points, while Callie Klemenz and Ava Kindiak had 12 each.
Mattaya Coupland was Peacock’s top scorer with 10 points, Devlynn McClung scored eight and Hannah Miller added seven.
Now, it’s on to the provincial playdowns.
The Spirits are the second seed in the 4A girls division and host their regional tournament beginning Friday, with 5A Peacock making the trip to Lloydminster for their playdown.
“We’ll just go out there and hopefully play like this, have a really good weekend and get back to provincials,” Lapointe said.