For the first time in 10 years, the Vernon Secondary School Panthers Junior Girls basketball team is provincials bound.
The squad punched their ticket to the big dance with a second place showing at the Okanagan Valley Championships last weekend, hosted at Valleyview Secondary in Kamloops.
At the eight-team tournament, the Panthers faced a feisty South Kamloops team in their quarterfinal opener. VSS relied on their defence in the game, holding the Titans to just 17 points en route to a 50-17 victory.
Next up was a semifinal tilt against the KSS Owls. The last time these two teams played each other was in early December, where the Owls came out ahead by just one point at the Panther Pit. In the matchup at Valleyview, VSS found themselves down early, and was burdened by foul trouble. The strong play of Pearl Fogel, Isla Jolly and Lilly Schomer kept the Panthers alive, with the see-saw battle going right down to the wire.
With six seconds left, and the Panthers down by two, VSS would foul a KSS shooter, giving them the opportunity to ice the game with a couple of free throws. The Owl player would miss both, leaving the Panthers with a chance. Charlotte Schommer corralled the rebound, pushed it up ahead to Paige Leahy, who would miss the layup. However, Adie Janke, sprinting from the other side of the court, would chuck up a putback with 0.2 seconds left that find the bottom of the net to tie the game up and send it to overtime.
VSS carried the late momentum to a slender lead throughout the extra period, and Sarah Davies would ice the game with a clutch steal with eight seconds left. The win vaulted the Panthers into the final, and secured themselves a spot in provincials.
“We have preached all year long to our girls the value of one through 12 and that you always need to be ready,” said head coach Warren Cullum. “This game was a testament to us as a team. It was our best team win of the season as everyone was ready to go when called upon, even in high pressure situations.”
The final saw VSS take on Kelowna’s Okanagan Mission Huskies, in what would be the fourth matchup of the year between the two teams. The Huskies jumped out to a quick 17-5 lead. Despite a valiant effort from team captain Leahy and the rest of the team, they would fall, 56-52.
“We would have loved to take home the banner this weekend,” Cullum said. “Our girls have come such a long way… but the goal was to get to provincials and we accomplished that this weekend.”
The Jr. Girls Provincial Championship is scheduled for March 1-4 from the Langley Events Centre. The tournament will feature 24 teams, including four from the Okanagan. OKM andVSS are the top seeds from the Valley, while Valleyview of Kamloops and Salmon Arm also received bids. The full draw will be released this weekend.
If you want to follow along the Panthers journey next week, you can do so by visiting bchighschoolbasketballchampionships.com