TWO years ago longtime friends and teammates Elisa Homer and Abby Dixon shared the exciting but daunting task of joining the vaunted Handsworth Royals senior girls basketball team as Grade 10 players.
"Grade 10 was kind of tough because people didn't really know us," said Homer. "It was more physical, it was faster, girls were just a lot stronger. We're not super big."
"I was very small in Grade 10," added Dixon.
Not only were they taking a step up to the big leagues but they were also, as a point guard and wing player, filling roles recently vacated by a pair of players who were a very tough act to follow. The previous season was the final installment of the Diana Lee and Kris Young show - the famous duo led Handsworth to back-to-back provincial titles, played together for the junior national team and now are leaders on their university teams, Young at UBC and Lee at Boise State.
"We took over," said Homer with a bit of a sarcastic laugh. Sitting in the Handsworth locker room following their final home game as Royals on Thursday night, the new dynamic duo had a reason to laugh. In the two years since Homer and Dixon stepped into those massive footprints, they haven't quite matched the exploits of Young and Lee but on Thursday night they did a pretty good impression, leading the Royals to their eighth straight North Shore AAA title with a 83-66 win over the Argyle Pipers.
Shooting guard Homer led the way on the score sheet, dropping 34 points with a variety of long bombs and drives combined with excellent free throw shooting, while point guard Dixon controlled the flow of the game on both ends while also putting up 28 points of her own.
They have contrasting styles that crack up Handsworth head coach Scott Palmer.
"Elisa's our fire and Abby's our ice. Abby is so cool with the ball," he said. "(And) Elisa will find a way to score. . . . She's the purest scorer I've ever coached, bar none. She just gets it done."
Both of them get it done on this Royals team that relies heavily on the talented duo. Their 62 points accounted for 75 per cent of Handsworth's total in the North Shore final.
"They're a little greedy with scoring, actually," Palmer said with a laugh. "We've been talking about balancing our scoring all season - it's a challenge but these guys are prolific and they create stuff. They were feeling it tonight."
Though he's searching for ways to balance the scoring on his team, Palmer knows how important the two Grade 12s are to Handsworth's success.
"We've got it figured out that they're going to be failing Grade 12 this year so that they'll be back next year," he said, laughing again. Of course that's just wishful thinking from Palmer - the pair are actually both headed to university to play ball next season, Homer to SFU and Dixon to Queen's. When they do head their separate ways they'll be split up for the first time in a long time. The pair first hooked up on a 3D Basketball Academy Grade 7 team and have played together on Handsworth squads since Grade 8.
"We've built trust over the years and it's finally peaked," said Dixon. Homer agreed.
"It's nice to have someone that I really, really trust," she said. "We feed off of each other so well. Because we've played together for so long we know where the other person is going to be. I have that confidence in you that you're going to get the job done."
The duo needed to be sharp against Argyle, a team that has joined Handsworth as a top-5 ranked team in the province for much of the season. The Pipers actually knocked off the Royals in a regular season game a week before the North Shore final. Thursday's meeting was the fourth between the two teams this season and that brings up some game-plan problems.
"It's tough, (we) know each other so well," said Palmer. "(Assistant coach Thomas Staron) and I have been constantly trying to come up with new stuff because you can't keep running the old stuff. We had some new looks and did some new things tonight but we need some new stuff probably by next Saturday to keep them on their toes."
Next Saturday is the Lower Mainland final, another possible meeting point for the two talented North Shore teams. Both the Pipers and the Royals are hoping for one more meeting after that - in the provincial championship final.
For Homer and Dixon, that's the final destination they're hoping to reach together in their last season as Royals.
"Knowing that it's the end I think we'll be pushing harder than any other year because we want to finish the best that we can, we want to finish first," said Dixon. "That's the goal. We want to get out of here knowing that we did our best."
. . .
A tip of the cap to Palmer who won his eighth North Shore title in eight years as a coach at Handsworth. The affable coach deflected any praise for the accomplishment.
"It's crazy that we keep finding ways to do this but I've been blessed," he said. "It's not me - there's so much talent in this school all the time. It's amazing. I watched our Grade 9s today and they're going to be right there in a year or two."