The AAA final proved to be third times the charm for the Kelowna Owls. After losing to Walnut Grove the first two times they faced during the regular season, they beat them when it mattered most. Kelowna took a strong defensive game to Walnut Grove, winning 67-61.
When asked about what he learned about their first two meetings, head coach Dave Seminiuk of Kelowna stressed that the defensive side of the ball was something they keyed in on.
“We can get up, pressure them a little bit more in the full court, and actually take the fight a little bit more to them on the defensive side. Up until now, we’ve played really safe, dropped back and make them shoot the toughest shot possible.”
Walnut Grove was firing on all cylinders, hitting big threes from both Sophia and Jessica Wisotski to take a 14-4 lead. They played great defence as well, even forcing a shot clock violation on Kelowna. Natalie Rathler had the final two points of the quarter on a nice pick and roll.
The second quarter saw Kelowna take the lead on the back of strong three point shooting. Missing shots in the first quarter, both Dez Day and Kasey Patchell hit multiple bit threes to help the Owls take the lead. Although Natalie Rathler had a strong half, it was not enough to keep Walnut Grove in the lead. Kelowna ended up leading by five at the half.
Walnut Grove responded after the break, making it a one point game just two minutes in. But from then on, unforced errors and turnovers on the part of the Gators hampered there progress. Kasey Patchell had back to back threes after missing two free throws, and also was a force close to the rim.
Kelowna let Walnut Grove back into it in the fourth quarter. Sophia Wisotksi drained a long three to cut the lead, making Kelowna sweat in the process. After Walnut Grove got within three, Kelowna made the most of their chances from the line. As the final buzzer sounded, Kelowna celebrated being AAA champions for the first time in their history.
For the victors, Taya Hanson had 18 points and 11 boards, as well as six assists. For Walnut Grove, Tavia Rowell had 19 points. Player of the game Kennedy Dickie had a dominant game for Kelowna, finishing with 21 points, 16 of which came in the second half. It was a sort of coming out party for Dickie, who had her best two games of the tournament when it mattered most.
“Inside her, she feels like she has a lot to prove still” said Semeniuk on Dickie’s game in the final. “She’s been a little bit inconsistent this year. She works with Canada Basketball a bit and I think they have their doubts on her. So for her to put on that performance, I think she really wanted to show who she was.”
It was also by far the closest game Kelowna had to play all tournament. They managed to stretch out the other three games they won, especially late. This one was won with strong defensive play down the stretch.
“It did cross my mind that we didn’t get in one of those [close games]” said Seminiuk afterwards. “But we had games like that this year, and there wasn’t a moment of doubt. I knew these girls would step up at the right time.”
Kelowna’s strong defensive presence meant that some of Walnut Grove’s best shooters struggled in this one. Tavia Rowell went 6 for 19 from the floor, while Jessica Wisotksi made just one shot from the floor. While Natalie Rather had 16 rebounds, she managed just 14 points. As a whole, the Gators shot just over 30% from the field.
Taya Hanson of Kelowna was named MVP of the AAA tournament, while Kennedy Dickie, Tavia Rowell and Natalie Rather were named first team all stars.
Written by: Nick Bondi