THE Windsor Dukes senior girls basketball team claimed their sixth North Shore AA title in the past seven years last week, topping St. Thomas Aquinas at home in the championship final on Valentine's Day.
The Fighting Saints actually came into the contest ranked No. 3 in the province while Windsor didn't crack the top 10 but it was the Dukes who took control early, riding a fast start to a 60-43 win.
"It was a big win, exciting game," said Windsor head coach Alec Lewis, adding that pre-game rankings don't matter once the ball is tipped-off.
"STA definitely deserves to be ranked that high, they've beaten a lot of good teams throughout the year," he said. "I think we just match up quite well against them. A lot of our girls know a lot of their girls and have played with or against them for a long time in club basketball. Those rankings, for me, are not a big deal. At the end it's if you can win the game or lose the game."
In the North Shore final the Dukes smothered the Saints in the first half, building a commanding 31-11 lead at halftime.
"STA is a really strong team and we knew we had to come out really hard and jump on them early," said Lewis, adding that it was a combination of cold STA offence and hot Windsor defence that left the Saints with just 11 points in the first half. "Our girls battled really hard and STA missed some shots. We managed to keep them just shooting from the outside, we were able to clog up the middle. They didn't hit some shots that they probably normally would. Then we had a lot of different players step up and hit some shots for us on the other end."
The Saints, however, didn't go down without a fight.
"We knew that they were going to have a big push and it definitely came - they had a great run to start the third quarter," said Lewis. "We managed to fight through and get our bearings back and hold on the rest of the way. The girls played really well."
The two teams took very different paths to get to the AA championship final. Windsor played in the North Shore Div. 1 league and racked up a perfect 9-0 record.
STA, meanwhile, moved up to the premier league to swim with the AAA sharks from Handsworth and Argyle. The Saints went 0-4 in league play but gained valuable experience against tough opponents. Windsor and STA met one other time this season in an exhibition game used to determine seeding for the AA playoffs. Windsor won that game as well, scoring a 55-52 overtime victory that earned them the right to host the playoff tournament.
The AA championship final featured some high-level players as Windsor's Sherrie Errico and Ariella London were both named Div. 1 first-team all-stars while teammate Brooklyn Legault earned second-team honours. For STA Vanessa Botteselle was named a first-team all-star in the premier league while Angela Clarke and Kate Mockler earned second-team all-star status.
"One of STA's keys was to key on Sherrie (Errico), who has been one of our top offensive threats all year, and they did a great job on that but the other girls were able to take the shots that they were given and some girls just made some shots for us," said Lewis. "We've got quite a few girls who can step up at different times if they key on one player." Legault led the balanced Dukes attack with 17 points in the final.
The teams met for a third time in the Lower Mainland championship final on Friday night following North Shore News press deadline. The zone was allotted two automatic berths into provincials, meaning their strong showings in the Lower Mainland tournament earned both Windsor and STA tickets to the AA B.C. Championships scheduled for March 6-9 in Kamloops.
They may not have been provincially ranked before winning their North Shore title, but coach Lewis thinks his Dukes have a shot at winning it all when they take on the best B.C. has to offer.
"They're a great group of kids who work very hard," he said. "On any given day they could compete against just about anyone."