Cowichan T-Birds return to provincials

After an absence of two decades, Cowichan Secondary School’s senior girls basketball team is returning to the provincial championships.

A third-place finish at the Island championships on Feb. 13-15, followed by a win in a challenge game against Royal Bay on Feb. 18, propelled the Thunderbirds to the 2020 high school girls AAAA tournament that starts on Wednesday in Langley.

“It’s all coming together at the right time,” head coach Sandeep Heer said. “The girls are excited. They’re super happy and glad to be going.”

The T-Birds lost their opening game at Islands against Belmont, but didn’t let that stop them as the older players rallied their teammates to three straight victories.

This year’s team includes seven Grade 12s, the bulk of whom went to the Grade 8 provincial invitational in 2016, and the junior provincials as Grade 10s in 2018. This will mark their third trip to provincials in five years, all with Heer behind the bench.

“The girls had a different focus after the first loss,” Heer said. “The Grade 12s made it their goal after the first loss to make it to provincials. I haven’t seen them that focused — maybe a few times over the year. It was neat to see them turn it around.”

Everyone contributed at both ends of the floor as the T-Birds surged in their next three matches. Heer had glimpses of that kind of play over the course of the season, but hadn’t seen the team sustain such a high level of performance.

“I had kind of been waiting for it,” he said. “They’ve had a few moments during the season where things were clicking all around.”

The T-Birds beat Reynolds in their second game, then defeated Oak Bay in a crossover to set up a rematch with Belmont for third place. Cowichan won that game by 30 points.

“The girls just turned it on on offence and defence,” Heer recalled.

Finishing in third gave the T-Birds a chance to challenge second-place Royal Bay because the teams hadn’t met during the course of Islands. The T-Birds prevailed 50-46 to earn a berth in provincials.

Mackenzie Hall was a first-team all-star at Islands, and Alyssa Klotz was named to the second team. Eden Funk was excellent for Cowichan at the defensive end, averaging four or five blocks and eight to 10 rebounds per game.

“She’s awesome on defence,” Heer said.

Jessica Castle also stood out in a challenging role.

“I usually put her on the other team’s strongest guard,” Heer explained. “And she does a tremendous job.”

It will take a team effort to succeed at provincials, and that’s what the T-Birds are putting together right now.

“Everyone is playing together and we’re all on the same page,” Heer said.

Seeded 13th, Cowichan will open the 16-team tournament against No. 4 Walnut Grove. The teams haven’t met previously this season, but Heer has tracked down some info about the Gators.

“It will be an interesting game,” he said. “I think they’ll want to play a fast-paced game. We have a lot of height and size, we like to slow things down. It will be interesting to see which team can control and play to their speed.

“You never know. We’re an unknown to them, and they’re an unknown to us. You never know what can happen in a game.”

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