If these girls are small fry now, look out — the Skidegate Saints like to finish big.
The Saints’ youngest basketball team made history last month by winning the first ever under-13 championship at the Junior All Native Basketball Tournament, hosted in Kelowna by the Okanagan First Nation.
On Friday, Skidegate celebrated the win with a dinner and dance that packed the Small Hall.
“The success of these girls is a really proud moment,” says Wade Collinson, who coached the 10- to 13 year-old players along with his wife Natasha Collinson and Erica Ryan-Gagne.
“Their discipline and dedication is superb,” he said, noting that the team showed up at the gym for four, five, even six nights a week starting in September.
When the team started three years ago, Collinson said the focus was on fundamentals.
That changed this year, as the young Saints began putting those skills together and learning team play.
Besides friendly games against the junior boys, senior girls, and Haida Wilder from Old Massett, the 13-and-under Saints also got tips from senior coaches like Desi Collinson in the weeks before Junior All Native.
But on day one in Kelowna, the girls faced the top two teams — first the At’maakw from Bella Coola, and then Van City.
They lost the first game to At’maakw by three measly points.
“We didn’t worry about it too much,” said Collinson.
“We wanted them to have fun, and not to worry about the details.”
That early loss quickly became a detail in a bigger story about how the girls pressed on and won their next five games straight.
In the final, they had a slow first quarter against the hometown Syilix/Okanagan First Nation, and suffered an injury, too.
But they came back steady, thanks in no small part to Zoey ‘The Beast’ Collinson, who scored 23 of the 29 points in the Saints’ 29-21 win.
When it was all over, Zoey wasn’t the only all-star — guard Joey Pringle also got extra kudos for her strong defensive play.
“There’s a lot more to the game than one person scoring,” said Collinson, who has seen a thing or two after 30 years and three championships with the Saints, and sharing the court with the likes of Willis Parnell, Sid Edenshaw, and Garner Moody.
Basketball IQ is running pretty high now in Skidegate — the girls’ banner will be the sixth for the Saints in six years — and there are plenty more games to play.
Another 13-and-under championship will be held next year, and in the meantime, Zoey Collinson and Stacey Edinger are both heading to the North American Indigenous Games in July.
“I guess it’s a certain amount of pride,” said Collinson, when asked how the Saints keep rolling.
“You see it, and you aspire to that,” he said.
“We’re up there some days making the seniors wait for us to practice.”