Vernon Panthers seniors Kelsey Watts (from left), Ashley Budgen and Sarah Butler have helped the team reach the B.C. 3A Senior Girls Basketball Championships starting Wednesday, Feb. 26, in Langley. (Photos submitted)

Sweet 16 for Vernon Panthers

Led by three seniors, Lady Cats qualify for 16-team B.C. finals for 16th straight year

It’s a rite of senior girls basketball in British Columbia, the Vernon Panthers playing in the provincial championships.

The Panthers, for the 16th year in a row, begin play Wednesday, Feb. 26, at the B.C. 3A Senior Girls finals in Langley.

“The team is part of a historic run of uninterrupted trips to the championship. It is quite an accomplishment,” said current Panthers coach Dave Tetrault, joined on the bench by Chad Butler. “Many great players have made this happen, as well as great coaches. Malcolm Reid, Lonny Mazurak, Bobby Mitchell, myself and Chad Butler have been the coaches who worked to be part of this streak.”

The team has been preparing the past week to peak at the championship, including listening to the wisdom of a retired non-VSS coach.

READ MORE: Panther girls earn B.C. berth

“I brought in legendary Pleasant Valley Sinner (Armstrong) coach Ross Shannon to give the girls a new voice. He is a master clinician and very entertaining. The girls responded so well with hard work and a positive attitude,” said Tetrault.

The Panthers enter the championship as the 11th seed to match up against the sixth-ranked MEI Eagles of Clearbrook. VSS is led by their three seniors: Kelsey Watts, who averages 22 points a game, Ashley Budgen, averaging 18 points a game and Sarah Butler, who collects 12 a game. The game is live-streamed and begins at 3:15 p.m. on Wednesday.

“We played them at MEI earlier in the year losing on a last-second shot 62-60, said Butler. “We hope to play a little better than that game and sneak out a win.”

The fun week of practice for the Panthers included calling up some juniors, more specifically, some younger sisters.

There are four sets of sisters on the team including the Baycroft twins, Emma and Claire, Abby and Maddy Hackman, Beth and Sarah Butler, as well as Kaitlyn and Ashley Budgen.

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