They had almost forgotten there was such a thing as provincials for basketball at Salisbury Composite High School.
They have finally remembered.
For the first time in nearly two full decades, the Sal Sabres senior girls basketball team has made it into the top-level 4A provincial championship tournament, completing a rapid rise for the program over the last couple of years.
The Sabres finished fourth in the incredibly competitive Metro Edmonton Tier 1 league with a record of 7-3, but were still able to battle their way through to a provincial berth.
Where they have been more impressive is in tournament play. The Sabres won gold in four of the five tournaments they entered this season — their own Salisbury Invitational, the Bishop Carroll Classic (where they bested the No. 2 ranked team in Alberta), the Bev Facey Invitational and the Lindsay Thurber tournaments — to put together an impressive overall record of 23-5 and give them hope that they can be a contender in the tournament-style provincial finals.
“Qualifying for the provincials for the first time in nearly 20 years has been very exciting for these ladies, as two years ago the Sabres were not even in Tier 1,” said Sal athletic director Grant Melnyk. “All year long it has been one of the team’s goals to get here, and they have done so with commitment and hard work. The team has a great balance of skilled, veteran leadership and exciting, talented youth. They have been a great team to watch all year long as their skills and their teamwork have improved each week.”
Sabres head coach Darren Caldwell is equally enthused about his team making it to the end stage.
“It is a huge accomplishment to make it to the provincial tournament where the 16 best teams from across the province square off,” he said. “All year long making it to the tournament was our biggest, and our loftiest goal. We have been driven by an outstanding group of very talented girls from Grade 12 down to Grade 10, and all of them have shared the same end goal. From a pure confidence perspective, getting to the provincials is huge for this year’s team, and for the whole program moving forward. Learning to win and close out games is a mental skill, and so important to develop in young players so they believe they should always be making it to the provincial championships. Actually getting here for the first time really helps to build and imbed a winning culture into the girls and the program.”
Caldwell said the Sabres have had an excellent mix of talent and perseverance this season.
“Our Grade 12’s have been pillars of strength and intensity all year long, and have been excellent leaders on and off the court,” he said. “As well, we have a dynamic group of Grade 11’s who have carried a bulk of the scoring for us for most of the season. Finally, we have had some incredible play from our Grade 10’s who have stepped up to provide us with much needed defence and long range shooting.
“Overall, we have been blessed to have struck a very good balance between speed, length and physicality, especially for a team that is still really quite young, and rather inexperienced at the Tier 1 level of play. That is why we pushed ourselves into some of the bigger tournaments, so that we could try and play some of the higher-ranked teams in the province, and this has really helped us as we head down the stretch. Playing in the Bishop Carroll Classic where three of the top teams in Calgary were entered, as well as down in Lethbridge where six of the eight teams in the tourney were ranked in the top 10 in the province were huge for us. The top-ranked teams in the province play at a much higher speed and with much more physicality, and we needed to play more games against those teams to prepare for the provincial tourney.”
The ASAA 4A girls provincials run at Jasper Place High School in Edmonton from March 14 to 16.