Jasper Place – Every win is another stepping stone to the top of the mountain for the St. Albert Skyhawks.
The No. 1-ranked 4A high school women’s basketball team in the province continued its climb towards a championship banner in Monday’s first-place showdown with the Jasper Place rebels in the metro Edmonton division one league.
The Skyhawks started strong and finished strong in the 83-75 victory against the No. 6-ranked Rebels, 7-1 in league play and 15-6 overall.
“We’ve got to keep pushing,” stressed Kamryn DeKlerk, a Grade 11 point guard, after the Skyhawks soared to 9-0 in division one and 20-5 overall in their 14th consecutive conquest. “We know it doesn’t mean anything that we’re ranked number one. So what? We still have to go out and play our best every game.”
The Skyhawks never trailed after tacking up eight points in the opening two minutes and led by as much as 20 before the first quarter ended 29-17.
Six of the team’s 11 three–pointers in the match were drained in the first 10-minute period with Annacy Palmer dropping three on the Rebels during a 16-point run that made it 27-7 with under three minutes to go and the Skyhawks never looked back.
“We were having some lulls in the first quarter and it was really great to see that we stepped it up this game and made a conscious effort not to start bad and that was huge for us because it allowed us to have lulls in the rest of the game,” DeKlerk said. “It wasn’t like we had to continue to go at such a high pace, it just allowed for some more freedom and less stress.”
The Rebels closed the gap to 10 points in the second quarter with Dani Nadeau and Jenna Rinsky doing the bulk of the scoring and the Skyhawks were unable to make their shots fall at the same rate as earlier.
The 48-38 halftime advantage grew to 71-57 after three quarters with a convincing 19-4 run capped off by DeKlerk’s three-ball to expand the lead to 69-47 with about three minutes left until quarter time.
The Rebels kept chipping away to get to within 11 with 1:50 gone in the last period before back-to-back buckets by DeKlerk helped maintain the team’s sizable lead.
Rinsky’s three-pointer with 6:31 to play brought the Rebels closer at 77-67, but Palmer responded with a layup after the Skyhawks forced a turnover in their zone and then Teá DeMong put the ball through the hoop.
It was 81-68 during a long scoreless stretch of missed shots and turnovers before Jenna Karach’s basket made it an 11-point difference with 1:33 remaining.
DeMong, who battled through a slew of fouls to sink 18 points, closed out the team’s scoring with a basket with 67 seconds to go that left the Rebels down by 13.
“Both teams worked really hard, we just happened to keep our lead. We were up 10 almost the whole game so keeping that composure was good for us. We also pushed the pace as hard as we can because they’ve got some bigs that we couldn’t match today,” said DeKlerk, noting how the fleet-footed Skyhawks persevered without their physical Grade 11 post, Mimi Sigue.
DeKlerk’s team-high 20 points included four three-pointers, Palmer generated 11 of her 18 points in the first half and Morgan Harris, who was also hampered by fouls, dialed by 10.
The Rebels were led by Nadeau’s 23 points and 22 for Rinsky. Six of the team’s 10 three-pointers were deposited in the second half.
The win was the fourth in the last five games for the Skyhawks over the Rebels. Last season, the Skyhawks beat the two-time defending division one champions and 2017 4A provincial gold medallists 68-59 at the SkyDome in the last game before the playoffs as the Rebels suffered their first loss in league play, 68-58 in the division one final at Jasper Place and 58-56 in the 4A provincial bronze-medal match at Medicine Hat.
The teams crossed paths in the third-place game at the 37th annual REB Invitational on Dec. 15 at Jasper Place and the Rebels were victorious 66-52 against a Skyhawks’ roster without DeMong, Palmer and Harris as the trio attended the women’s national age-group assessment camps in Toronto.
Incentive was sky-high for the Skyhawks to rise to the challenge in another statement game for the championship contenders.
“It was huge. This was one we’ve been planning for from the start,” DeKlerk said. “We came in knowing they’re going to be a top contending team so we just had to get it done.
“Last year, it came down to points for and against (to break a three-way tie for top spot in the standings between the Skyhawks, Rebels and Paul Kane Blues at 10-1) so knowing that we have this win under us is very positive going forward.”
The Skyhawks can nail down first place before the Feb. 25 quarter-finals with a win over the No. 8-ranked 4A Blues (6-1) next Wednesday in the team’s last game before the playoffs. Tipoff is 6:30 p.m. at the SkyDome.
“We’re kind of hoping to close out our season in a big push going into the playoffs, so it’s a big game for us plus it’s hometown teams going against each other,” said DeKlerk, 16.
Previous results this season were 79-75 for the Blues in double overtime in the REB semifinal and 84-40 for the Skyhawks in the Paul Kane Invitational final Jan. 12.
The second tournament title in a row for the Skyhawks was the St. Mary’s Saints Senior Classic two weekends ago in Calgary. Scores were 91-40 against William Aberhart Orange of Calgary, 83-48 against the Raymond Comets and the 80-67 final against the Cardston Cougars.
Raymond was listed seventh and William Aberhart and Cardston were honourable mentions in the first 4A provincial ranking period.
The second of three provincial rankings by the Alberta Schools’ Athletic Association will be released Friday.
“We played amazing. The first two games were just great to watch. Everyone was moving the ball. Everything was great,” said DeKlerk, the tournament MVP with 17 points in the final that included a seven-point run despite being saddled with fouls during a critical second-half surge for the Skyhawks. “The Cardston game was really fun to play in because it's high level competition and just having to play our game against that kind of competition prepared us for this game (against the Rebels) the most.”
This weekend the Skyhawks are hosting a six-team No Frills tournament with the Rebels, Archbishop MacDonald Marauders, Lindsay Thurber Raiders of Red Deer, Medicine Hat Kwahommies and St. Mary’s, a 4A honourable mention, competing.
Each team has three games scheduled and there is no final. The tournament opener is 4:15 p.m. Friday between the Marauders and St. Mary’s and the last game is 6:45 p.m. Saturday between Lindsay Thurber and the Marauders.
The Rebels play Lindsay Thurber at 6 p.m. Friday and Saturday’s games are 10 a.m. against St. Mary’s and 5 p.m. against Medicine Hat.
The Skyhawks are in action Friday against Medicine Hat at 7:45 p.m. and Saturday against Lindsay Thurber at 11:45 a.m. and St. Mary’s at 3:15 p.m.