The Tseshaht Pride U13 girls’ basketball team came home from the Junior All-Native Basketball Tournament (JANT) in Kitimat, B.C. with silver medals—an impressive accomplishment for a team that was only formed three years ago.
The Pride were one of two girls’ teams that competed at JANT this year: a U17 team also made the trip to Kitimat. Another Nuu-chah-nulth team, the Hesquiaht Storm, won bronze in the U17 category.
Two boys’ teams—Port Alberni U17 Warriors and the PA U17 Wolves—also competed at JANT but no results were available.
The U13 Tseshaht Pride team was established in 2016 by team manager Robyn Samuel after she learned that the 2017 JANT in Kelowna would feature a U13 age bracket for the first time. Many of the players on the current roster have been with the team since day one—including head coach Leisa Hassall.
“All of our girls were young, but [Robyn] could see that they had talent,” Hassall explained.
The first year that the Tseshaht team travelled to the tournament, they lost two in a row and were sent home. The second year, in Vancouver, they tied for third place. This year, they moved up to second.
“Along with them just maturing, we had teams and experiences to base our practices on,” Hassall said. “They all did phenomenal. They did way more than we expected.”
The tournament—which was only the second one of the year for Tseshaht Pride—was held in a round robin format, with 15 teams put into brackets of four teams. Hassall said the Pride’s first four games were “somewhat easy.”
“When semi-finals came around, our opponents were a lot younger than our girls,” Hassall said. “We knew going in that we would have to be above the rest in the round robin just to secure a spot in the finals.”
They ended up in the gold medal game against Haisla, falling 27-17 to take second place.
But their road to the finals wasn’t a smooth one. The girls had to quickly adjust to a new style of play when coaches learned shortly before the tournament began that some rules had changed.
“We train these girls for U17 ball,” explained the U17 Pride head coach Joe Charleson. “We train them to play aggressively.” Some of the players play for both the U13 and U17 teams.
This is the first year that Tseshaht has sent a U17 girls’ team to the tournament. The team exceeded expectations, finishing in the top six overall.
“It was a good experience,” said Arianna Johnson, a player on the U17 team. “We got to play a lot of different teams we’ve never seen. It was our first year in U17 together, so we did pretty good.”
Several of the girls switched between both the U13 and U17 teams throughout the tournament, Charleson explained. In a tight game against Bella Bella, several U13 players joined the U17 team at halftime. Tseshaht ended up winning the game by three points.
“They were rushing from game to game to make those wins,” said Charleson. “You could really see the growth in each of them. They were pushed more than they expected.”
Jennifer Taylor and Natalie Clappis both received All-Star Team nods for the U13 team, while Jenelle Johnson-Sabbas was named to the U17 All-Star Team. Taylor was also named Most Inspirational Player. Next year, Taylor will be moving on to the U17 team.
“Hopefully we can step it up and get to first place,” Taylor said. “As long as we work as a team, we’ll get better.”
Taylor isn’t the only player moving up out of her age division—the majority of the U13 girls will be moving on next year.
“But that just makes our U17 team stronger,” said Hassall.
Tseshaht Pride meets three days a week to practice, but many players also play at the high school level—sometimes practicing twice a day. Tseshaht Pride always encourages school ball first, said Hassall. The ADSS Grade 8 and Junior girls’ basketball teams, which both have a number of Pride players on the rosters, won their North Island Championships this year.
Tseshaht Pride fundraised up to three times a week in order to send two teams to Kitimat for a week. Fundraising has already started for next year’s games.
“We’re still aiming to send two teams,” Hassall said. “We want to keep the momentum going in our community.”