Rally gets Hyacks' revival off on the right foot

There’s no doubt that this year’s version of the New Westminster senior girls Hyacks has spunk.

If you want evidence, soak up what were the final minutes from the first game of the season, and the first game for a New West senior girls hoop team since the spring of 2018.

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On Monday, the team was staring at a seven-point deficit with just over four minutes remaining against the Centennial Centaurs.

A pair of buckets by Grade 12 dynamo Kanon Imachi got New West within three. The Cents countered, but Anja Tjernagel slipped past the defence for a smooth layup, and was followed by Kaya Bruce’s bucket off a steal.

That made it a one-point affair with 3:30 to play.

The Coquitlam squad was having none of it, however, and drained a pair of field goals in the span of 25 seconds to get back ahead by five.

As though impressed with the challenge, New West’s Claire Haffner, one of the team’s five Grade 10s, sank a pair of free throws then flipped a turnover into a nifty jumpshot to get it to 54-53.

After Centennial nailed one free throw, Tjernagel weaved through a pair of defenders with 1:35 to play for a silky layup to tie it, followed by another Haffner’s two-pointer for the lead.

Although the Cents would rattle off another bucket, making it 57-57 with 42 seconds on the clock, New West locked it up on Adit Biar’s putback of a Tjernagel jumpshot. Imachi salted it away by going three-of-six from the line for a 62-57 come-from-behind win.

You could excuse some rust – a lot of rust, being as there was no senior Hyacks team a year ago.

There was no missing the heart and pure joy the team displayed on the court.

“Games like this are fun to be involved with. I knew we had a lot of time on the clock it was just a matter of keeping it going,” said Hyacks coach Roger Hamerton. “We made shots towards the end, made plays and created those opportunities that were super important.”

Just having a senior team back on the Massey gym court for one final go-round was a boost.

The last time a senior girls squad played in New West colours was at the provincials in 2018, when Doug Woodward ended decades as head coach with a 91-23 victory over North Peace to finish 15th. After the legendary coach retired his whistle and Hawaiian shirts – at least at NWSS – the program was unable to get enough players to form a squad last season.

That meant then-Grade 11s Komalpreet Dosanjh, Kyisha Narain, Sofia Cherobini, Maxine Hamerton, Emma Gruger, Biar and Imachi had to park it a year. The school’s junior program was strong, however, and coach Hamerton expected the senior side to be up and running in 2019.

And that they are.

With 16 players, including five Grade 10s, to build around, it’s not your typical rebuild season.

“We have players that aren’t afraid to have the ball in their hands towards the end,” remarked coach Hamerton. “They are not afraid to go to the basket to score. That’s one thing, when you have the ball you have to try and make plays to score, not just pass the ball. Be confident with the ball and go to the basket – if you’re open, you shoot; if you’re not, look for someone who is.”

The Grade 12s, who kept their skills tuned up by attending the school’s basketball class last season, will face as many learning curves as the junior grads – although Imachi had a prominent role with the New West team in 2018.

“She’s kind of our leader, she organizes everything out there, and runs the floor very well,” said Hamerton.

Biar, meanwhile, brings a lanky physicality to the centre position, giving the Hyacks a strong board presence.

“(Biar) had somewhere in the neighbourhood of 10 to 12 rebounds (Monday), and we scored a lot of points off those rebounds. That’s super important as well, because when you can make those baskets, be there to put them in, that’s what it’s all about,” he said. “She went to work, went to where she had to on the floor and got the rebounds and put the ball in afterwards.”

Although it’s a lengthy bench, coach Hamerton said it will come in handy as the team chalks up its share of lessons at the senior level. A handful of players are also in the school's theatre program and will be running between the old gym and Massey stage. This weekend the Hyacks head to John Oliver for a tournament, and prepare for the Bob Gair Classic come mid-December.

League play will be crucial to seeing where the squad measures up. But the legacy that the program carries makes it an expectation to be competitively in the mix come playoff time.

Those are the kind of expectations that come with being a Hyack.

“That’s something I think about all the time,” said coach Hamerton. “When I started here I had a chance to watch Bob (Gair) run his practices, and then Doug as well. They were always working and they had the teams going (to provincials). I just want to keep it going. Basketball is very important to the school here.

“We want to carry it to the new gym,” he added, referring to the construction site that is the new NWSS facility next door. “We’ll miss the old (Massey) gym, there’s been a lot of games played here. When it’s time to move in, we’ll be happy to keep what’s gone on here and bring it there.”

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