Winning the Paul Kane Invitational was extra special for the host team.
“It’s really exciting for us and hopefully it will give everyone the confidence to do way better than we did in the first half of the season,” said Raeesa Cherniwchan, the team leader for the Paul Kane Blues, 9-4 in high school women’s basketball.
Paul Kane proved it can rise to the occasion with wins of 58-53 against the O’Leary Spartans, 61-55 against the Bowness Trojans of Calgary and 67-53 against the St. Mary’s Saints of Calgary last weekend.
“It means a lot because we worked really hard for this,” said Kayleena Garda, the player of the game in Saturday’s final against St. Mary’s with 18 points. “We were in the finals of the first two tournaments and winning this tournament in our own gym really showed that we have it and we’ve got what it takes.
“Everyone thought we were going to be an underdog team because we were so young and also with Bella’s injury, but we’re really proud that we pulled it out of us.”
Paul Kane is breaking in five Grade 10s and one of the third-year veterans, scoring threat Bella Gaulden, hasn’t played since suffering a lower-body injury in the second game of the season.
The previous tournament finals were losses of 111-34 to the St. Albert Skyhawks at the 32nd annual Mike Dea Classic at St Francis Xavier High School and 60-57 to the Magrath Pandas at the 27th annual Totem Hoop Classic at Ross Sheppard High School before Paul Kane came though in the clutch against St. Mary’s.
“It’s a real accomplishment. Both teams were amazing. It was an awesome battle and we’re really happy and really honoured to win it,” Cherniwchan said.
Visit StAlbertToday.ca for the team’s championship picture.
In the first half, Paul Kane played from behind after St. Mary’s ended the first quarter with an 8-3 run to lead 14-12 and in the next quarter the Blues pulled even three times before the visitors outscored the home team 10-5 for the 36-31 advantage at the break.
The difference in the third quarter was Garda’s eight points for the highly-motivated Blues and her fourth basket made it 40-38 with five minutes left in the period.
Paul Kane never looked back after regaining the lead at 41-40 on Cherniwchan’s free throw with 3:37 to go in the quarter, followed by Elizabeth Salcedo's basket, Cherniwchan's layup off a slick move in the paint and Salcedo's three-pointer with 21 seconds remaining.
“When we were down we worked really hard and that got our offence going,” Garda said. “We just learned to trust ourselves and trust our teammates and got into the rhythm of things.”
Eight seconds into the fourth quarter, Salcedo pumped the ball through the hoop to put Paul Kane up by 10.
A three-pointer by Jules Froment left St. Mary’s trailing 57-42 with 7:01 to play and the last dagger was back-to-back baskets by Garda and Cherniwchan halfway through the quarter to put the game out of reach at 61-43.
“It was a strong battle all three quarters and in the fourth quarter the intensity got up and that’s where we kind of pushed more,” Cherniwchan said. “Definitely, when our energy rose we started scoring. Everyone on the bench and everyone on the court was doing everything to contribute.”
Garda, a six-foot-four pillar of strength, played a major role in the second-half comeback with 14 points.
“This is a really big turning point in my season. I really found my confidence, which I sometimes struggle with in putting up shots, and now I feel like I really got my teammate’s trust because I played a big part to help beat a team,” said the Grade 12 post.
Cherniwchan wired 14 points in the win, Salcedo collected 10 in total and Bailey Guppy added nine.
Paul Kane tipped off the eight-team draw against the O’Leary Spartans, 2-2 in the metro Edmonton division one league, and after falling behind 16-12 after the first quarter the Blues tied it at 29 at halftime before racking up 22 points in the third quarter to grab the upper hand at 51-39.
Froment dropped four three-pointers on O’Leary for a team-high 17 points, Cherniwchan chipped in with nine and Guppy added eight.
Paul Kane also needed a second half surge to pull past Bowness. The first quarter ended with 15 points apiece and the halftime margin was 30-24 for Bowness. Paul Kane closed the gap to 43-41 after three quarters and highlighting a 20-point barrage in the last 10 minutes were three-pointers by Froment, Chelsea Marko and Salcedo.
Froment racked up five three-pointers overall for 19 points, including 13 in the second half on the strength of three three-balls.
Marko drained 11 points and Cherniwchan contributed 10 to the cause.
“Our coach (Nate Kerr) actually referred to us as the comeback team because we were down both times in the third quarter and just really pulled ourselves up in the second halfs of both games,” Garda said.
“Both games were really intense, really aggressive. Both really good teams and super athletic teams,” Cherniwchan added. “It was really, really tight the whole time and at the end is when we really pushed.
“It was good to have that type of experience in really close games.”
Paul Kane entered the tournament after a surprising 54-38 loss to the Salisbury Sabres (4-1) in league play.
"It was our first game back (after the Christmas break) and we were just trying to find our feet again. Our shots weren’t falling. It happens to everyone. Not everyone is going to have a good game sometimes,” said Garda, 17.
A slow start proved to be the team’s downfall.
“In the first quarter it was definitely nerves,” Cherniwchan said. "But the last three quarters of the game was really, really close and really, really competitive and really good.”
Monday’s 59-56 decision against the Tigers (2-4) evened Paul Kane’s division one record at 2-2.
The last game before the exam break is against the Harry Ainlay Titans (2-4) today at 5:30 p.m. at Paul Kane.
The next tournament is at St. Mary’s at the end of the month.
“We’re going to keep working hard in practice on what we have to do better and hope that filters into our games,” said Cherniwchan, 17, a Grade 12 stalwart at forward and one of six returnees from the sixth-place team at the 2019 4A provincials that finished 20-11 overall, including a 9-3 mark as a division one semifinalist.