From the beginning of this year’s All Native Basketball Tournament both the Similkameen Starbirds and Haisla Ladies were on a mission.
For Similkameen, who breezed through the winners bracket in 2022 only to be the bridesmaid to Vancouver, whom they had beaten earlier in the week, it was to erase that disappointment.
For Haisla, who came into last year as the top seed following back-to-back championships only to be handed an early ticket home, it was to get back into championship form.
Both teams were accomplishing their missions until they met each other on Thursday in a game that would send one of them to the final and the other to the elimination bracket.
A 59-52 loss was a temporary setback for the Ladies while the Starbirds waltzed into the final undefeated.
On Friday, though, Haisla hammered Vancouver in the elimination bracket semifinal 60 - 47 to set up the rematch with Similkameen.
Coach Keith Nyce said he was happy with the semifinal performance as opposed to the first meeting with Similkameen during which the team couldn’t get anything to fall.
“We felt that we didn’t show our best last night to Similkameen and we hope to be better tomorrow afternoon,” he said.
They did not.
While the earlier matchup was still a relatively tight affair despite Nyce’s assessment, the championship game was anything but. At the end of the first quarter Similkameen was five points to the good, 13 to 8, but still within arms reach for Haisla. But from early in the second quarter to late in third, the Starbirds shut the Ladies down as they failed to put anything in the bucket for almost 20 minutes except a single free throw.
That was a big part of the game plan, said Similkameen Coach Peter Waardenburg.
We wanted to pick them up early, we wanted to play aggressive defence, we’ve been doing that all week and we’ve been training to do that.
Meanwhile, the sharpshooting Starbirds, led by Jasmine Montgomery who put up 23 on the day, seemingly couldn’t miss racking up 34 points and a 49 - 13 lead going into the final frame. Haisla put up a few more points in fourth, but at the buzzer the final tally was 66-25.
Montgomery, who was later named tournament MVP, reacted with a mixture of elation and relief.
“I have a lot of respect for the Haisla team and their coach, but we’ve come second to them too many times,” she said.
The perennial standout for the Birds wanted nothing to do with a conversation about her individual glory.
“We’re here for the number one trophy,” she said. “That’s all we’re here for.”
The coach felt like it was a well-deserved title.
“It feels really good,” he said. “I feel like we trained really hard, and with that in mind coming back with high energy, high level defence… and we did that.”
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