Perhaps no league in the province benefitted more than Richmond when the B.C. Boys High School Boys Basketball Association added another tier a few years ago. Now at least two city teams are poised to take advantage on the girls side.
A 3A tier being launched this season means the McMath Wildcats are a serious contender to win their first-ever provincial championship. They are No. 3 in the pre-season rankings, behind only the Okanagan Huskies (Kelowna) and Abbotsford Panthers respectively.
The timing also couldn’t have been better with Richmond schools now part of the South Fraser Zone — battling Surrey and Delta teams for BC berths. South Surrey’s Semahimoo Totems are favoured to repeat as provincial champions at the 4A level.
The new tier should also give the Steveston-London Sharks a very realistic chance of advancing to the BC tourney for the first time in several years thanks to a strong Grade 11 core that won provincials seasons ago.
But it’s the Wildcats who are the zone’s team to beat and the season starts this afternoon with the Big Ticket Tournament — a 24 team event that will conclude Thursday and Friday in Abbotsford.
McMath is hosting games through Wednesday including the Wildcats taking on York House at 3:10 today and Steveston-London facing Brookswood at 6:30 p.m. York House is No. 8 in the 2A rankings, while Brookswood sits at No. 3 at 4A.
Led by veteran coaches Chris Kennedy and Anne Gillrie-Carre, the Wildcats return a number of key players including fifth-year senior and reigning city MVP Liz Kennedy.
Her impressive run with the Wildcats began as an aged up Grade 8 who helped a loaded senior team reach the provincial title game four years ago.
Kennedy will be joined in the starting line-up by Grade 9 phenoms Marina Radocaj and Caitlin Kippan.
Radocaj was a first team all-star in the Richmond League and also the last edition of the Lower Mainland Championships while the ever-improving Kippan was a key contributor in the team’s run to provincials.
Grade 11 Kate Carkner is already a second-year starter and Caitlin Bradley-Tse is the lone other senior on the roster who will be a key leader on defence and in transition. Grade 11 Abby Boden showed what she could from three-point range during last year’s playoff run.
Other key players in the rotation include Hope Chan, Amani Mahamoor, Kee Howlweg and Quincy Hinds.
Chan missed the entire 2018-19 season with a knee injury and her all-round athleticism will be a valuable addition. Mahamoor may just be the most improved player on the team while Howlweg was a big part McMath’s run to the B.C. Grade 9 title a year ago.
Hinds is just in Grade 9 who has come over from Boyd and previously played at at the club level with Radocaj and Kippan.
The Wildcats are also the six-time defending Richmond champion and have rarely been tested during that run. To avoid more future blowouts, the city league has been divided into two tiers this season with McMath and Steveston-London on their own in tier one. The one and only league meeting will be Jan. 29 with both teams loading up on more exhibition games to fill the void. All the teams will come together for the city playoffs come February.