Sherwood Park – The St. Albert Skyhawks celebrated their number-one ranking in 3A provincial women's basketball Wednesday by beating the Archbishop Jordan Scots with a depleted line-up.
"Even though we only had seven players today we still wanted this game pretty bad because we have this huge target on our backs now," said a happy Kendall Lydon after the 71-68 decision. "Our effort was strong throughout the whole game. We hustled after every ball and we played our hearts out."
Not dressed were four Grade 12 Skyhawks: point guard Hilary Annich (ankle), post Courtney Gogowich (shoulder and ribs) and forwards Tricia McFarlane (ankle) and Lisa Rombough (at the Olympics). The starting five included three Grade 10s: Lydon, Zoe Downing and Katie Burak. The trio combined for 26 points and several rebounds.
"It was a very gutsy win," said head coach John Dedrick, who was popping buttons after the most satisfying victory of the season by the undefeated metro Edmonton premier conference leaders. "I told them that everyone needed to do something a little bit extra today, whether it be score four or five more points or get a few more rebounds and that's what they did and it turned out well for us."
The Scots, unranked in 4A as the third-place team in premier at 5-5, gave the Skyhawks a scare with a taller, deeper roster.
"When you're ranked number one you know everyone is going to be trying to play their best game against you, whether you're 3A or 4A, and a 4A school definitely doesn't want to lose to a 3A school either," Dedrick said. "Because of our success against big schools, 4A teams want to make sure they're at their best when they play us."
The pressure to perform intensified this week when the Alberta Schools' Athletic Association released its third 3A rankings of the season. After being slotted number two behind Springbank Phoenix of the south central zone the last two times, the Skyhawks were promoted to number one as the only Edmonton zone team in the top 10.
The highest the Skyhawks were ever ranked provincially was third in 2008, the year they won bronze at provincials.
"Absolutely we have big targets on our backs but we've talked about embracing that. We're basically saying bring it on. We'll meet each challenge as it comes so we're not worried," said Dedrick, who has guided the Skyhawks to the last five provincial tournaments, with the last three trips as the Edmonton zone champions and the other two were as wild card qualifiers.
As the only 3A team in premier the Skyhawks are 10-0. Their overall mark was 20-3 entering this weekend's 4A tournament hosted by the St. Mary's Saints of Calgary.
"Even though it's all 4A teams, at the end of the day we want to show well. If we were at 100 per cent then I would have very high expectations, not to say I don't already. Basically it's experience for us. We're going there for good basketball," Dedrick said. "Hilary's ankle is not 100 per cent, but she is going to play and that's why we rested her today. Tricia will also be back. Courtney will not be playing. Lisa will be back from the Olympics. We'll have part of our depth back but with Hillary not at 100 per cent it changes the way we have to play but we'll be fine."
In tournament action the Skyhawks beat the McCoy Colts (ranked fourth in 3A) in the final at Medicine Hat and the Centennial Coyotes of Calgary (ranked sixth in 4A) in the Optimist Showdown final at the SkyDome. They also placed third at the recent J. Percy Page tournament and were fourth at the REB tournament in December at Jasper Place.
Next week the Skyhawks wrap up league play at home against their two biggest rivals. Monday they play the O'Leary Spartans (10-1), ranked third in 4A, at 4:45 p.m. and Wednesday it's the Paul Kane Blues (2-8) at 6:15 p.m.
"They're probably our most important games of the season," Lydon said. "We're going to have all of our girls back and that will help because it's really hard playing without them."
After trailing the Scots 16-14 at the end of the first quarter, the Skyhawks led 39-31 at halftime and 59-53 after three quarters.
"They came out playing really tough from the get-go and they kept playing us tough throughout the whole game," said Lydon.
The versatile guard/winger tacked up 10 points, highlighted by a pair of pivotal threes. Her first three-ball put the Skyhawks up by 10 with 3:44 left in the third quarter. The second three was scored after Dedrick called a timeout with 4:53 left to play and the Skyhawks with possession deep in Scots territory. With only a few ticks on the shot clock, Lydon quickly got the ball away to make it 64-60.
"When we inbounded the ball, Zoe set a screen for me and as soon as I got it I just shot it and it happened to go in," she said.
After the persistent Scots pulled even at 64-all, Shelby Hucul threaded the needle with a great pass to Andrea Heavener and after scooting past a defender she drove to the hoop with authority to break the tie.
Heavener, a Grade 12 standout who led the Skyhawks in scoring with 20 points, would later go baseline with a slick move as the Skyhawks regained the lead at 68-66 with 1:39 to go.
After the Scots threw the ball away in the Skyhawks end of the court, Hucul went coast to coast with some fancy dribbling and her layup with 1:12 on the clock made it 70-66. The field goal gave the Grade 11 playmaker 14 points.
In the last minute the Skyhawks hung tough defensively against the desperate Scots.
"The difference at the end was our execution on offence and defence," Lydon said. "Overall we just tried our best the whole game and played as a team."