Hayley Pettigrew tosses the ball out to a teammate during practice with the Royal Bay junior girls basketball team. The defending Island champions are preparing for the upcoming season.

Hayley Pettigrew tosses the ball out to a teammate during practice with the Royal Bay junior girls basketball team. The defending Island champions are preparing for the upcoming season.

Ravens look to repeat as Island basketball champs

Improved finish at B.C.s also on list of team’s goals

A group of Grade 9 and 10 girls are busy running through drills and practising their passing and positioning on the basketball court at Royal Bay secondary.

Their coach, Dave Awalt, is watching closely and barks out both orders and questions to the girls, getting them involved in the how and why of what they’re doing.

This year’s version of the Royal Bay Ravens junior girls basketball team, the defending city and Island champion, is preparing for the new high school season and Awalt is working them hard.

Having previously coached at middle school, he’s enjoyed the move up to high school. Not only are the girls keen to learn, they’re getting accustomed to the physicality of the play, Awalt said later. As well, their quickness improves as they grow, as does their hand-eye co-ordination.

“I’ve said to them, ‘our practices should be our toughest games, you need to make each other better by being hard on each other and then a game will be easy,’” he said. “And they do, they play hard and they work hard.”

The junior girls basketball program surged in popularity at the school  this year, with enough players coming out to create a junior A and B team. The tryouts presented coaches with some tough decisions, as competition for the 12 spots on the A team was fierce.

In the end, the word that best describes this group is “experience.”

“We’ve got a lot of experience, obviously, with seven returning players,” Awalt said. “But the Grade 9s we have? A lot of experience also. They played on the B.C. Summer Games (Island) team last year and they were all at Dunsmuir when they won the cities in Grade 8. So we’ve got a lot of good players coming up and we’re a very athletic team. We don’t have a lot of height, but we’re quick.”

The seven Grade 10 players on the roster include the top five scorers from last year’s team which finished a promising 12th at the provincials.

Among them is Rachel Schmidt, who will split her court time between point guard and shooting guard along with teammate Lauren Awalt, Dave’s daughter. Pre-season workouts for this year’s teams were competitive with the newcomers, Schmidt agreed, and gave the players a good start to the year.

As for repeating as Island champions, she said, “I think it’s a lot of pressure, but I think we can do it. We just have to put in the time and effort.”

Lauren Awalt likes what she sees in this group, especially the way the newcomers are fitting in, and is excited for the season to start.

“I think it’s going to be really good,” she said. “We’re all really competitive and want to win – and I think we will win.”

Like her teammates, forward/post player Kaylee Jordison is highly anticipating the new season. She knows other teams, like Oak Bay and Stelly’s, will be gunning for the Ravens.

“I’ve heard there’s going to be a lot of competition and I’m pretty excited to compete against them,” she said.

These three have not only played school and Night League ball together for five or six years with several of their teammates, they’re keeners who have gone to multiple outside camps and represented their area on various regional and/or provincial teams.

Other Grade 10s on this team include Kate Berry, Hannah Cormode, Hayley Pettigrew and Bella Vedova, while the Grade 9s are Mya Bains, Emilie Daitl, Rachel Gschiel, Jordan Scoville and Mikayla Strandberg.

Dave Awalt is impressed with how this year’s group of Grade 10s chose to not move up to the senior team, the way some players have around the city. They want to work with the Grade 9s who will be coming up through the system and be their senior teammates in a couple of years, he said.

The Ravens, who are entered in five tournaments this season, beat the Brentwood College senior team in their first exhibition game and kick off the regular season with a home game Dec. 6 against Claremont (4:15 p.m. tipoff).

Other teams in the A league include West Shore rival Belmont and Spectrum, which is entering a team in the A league for the first time. Belmont is on the road at Stelly’s for their opener on Dec. 6.