Shawnigan Lake School junior boys basketball coach Jason Lam is crediting his team’s incredible dedication for last Saturday’s 40-38 upset win over Cowichan Secondary in the final of the Central Island championship.
"From day one, they’ve been committed," Lam said. "They come to practice 15 minutes early. They get warmed up on their own. They’ve actually started practices without me."
Cowichan had gone undefeated against Island opponents prior to the Central Island final, and is the only Island team ranked in the provincial top 10. The last time Shawnigan played Cowichan, the T-Birds won by 12 points behind a huge performance by Noah Charles. The Shawnigan players knew to key on the Cowichan star in a rematch.
"This time around, we certainly focused on limiting his touches and applying more pressure on him," Lam said.
Vincent Chen was vital in limiting Charles’s effectiveness, and Nathan Bice had a strong defensive game for Shawnigan. Still, Charles managed to put up 17 points and 14 rebounds. Cowichan held a 38-34 lead with about a minute and a half to go, but
Shawnigan hit a couple of tough shots and finished the game on a 6-0 run. Lam was thrilled with his team’s play down the stretch.
"They were composed and poised at the end when they needed to be," he said. "They didn’t stop believing."
Despite missing the Island tournament, Cowichan, which also got big games from Connor Hayer (10 points), Humza Khan (seven assists) and Jamie Friesen (six points, seven rebounds and three assists), still has a shot at reaching provincials. Coach Lucky Walia said his team will apply for an at-large berth in the B.C. championships.
"Those likely will not be decided until after the various zone tournaments are completed, and they know who has qualified based on their tournament finishes," Walia explained.
Brentwood College lost a tight battle with Shawnigan in the semifinal before beating Gulf Islands by six points to finish third.
"Our team struggled to capture the intensity we displayed against Shawnigan the day before, but we were able to make some key baskets toward the end of the game and came away with a six-point victory," Brentwood coach Liam Sullivan said of the bronze-medal game.
"It was very much a developmental year for our team, as we had three Grade 9s and one Grade 8 playing significant minutes for us during the year," Sullivan added. "It proved a formidable task to achieve many victories during our year, however, I am excited for the team next year as we return several very strong players." Shawnigan will make its first appearance at the junior boys Island tournament since 2003, and Lam is optimistic after the way his team played at Central Islands.
"For a school of our size, it’s quite significant," he said. "We’re hoping for the very best, and I think we can do well as long as we are focused."
The top three teams from Islands, Feb. 20-22 at Oak Bay, advance to provincials, and Lam thinks his team could be in the mix.
"It’s really a toss-up," he said. "Anyone can go. That’s why we play the games."