Irish return to B.C. Catholic

Thomas Scrubb of the Vancouver College Fighting Irish soars above Patrick McCristall (9) and Patrick O’Meara (14) of the Archbishop Carney Stars during first round play at the B.C. Catholic Basketball Tournament Thursday. - EVAN SEAL / THE LEADER
Thomas Scrubb of the Vancouver College Fighting Irish soars above Patrick McCristall (9) and Patrick O’Meara (14) of the Archbishop Carney Stars during first round play at the B.C. Catholic Basketball Tournament Thursday.
— image credit: EVAN SEAL / THE LEADER

They haven’t played at the tournament in more than a decade, and have yet to win a championship at the B.C. Catholic Basketball Championship tournament.

But the Vancouver Fighting Irish are the overwhelming favourites among the 10 boys teams at the 20-team tournament this week, hosted by Holy Cross high school.

The 21st annual B.C. Catholic Basketball Championship tipped off Wednesday with preliminary round games, and continued yesterday with quarterfinal contests. Semifinal games in both boys and girls competition are scheduled for today, then wraps up with championship at 6:30 (girls) and 8 p.m. (boys) tomorrow (Saturday) night.

“Vancouver College is here for the first time in 12 years or so, their new principal is committed to the Catholic Tournament this year and in the future,” said Gianni Risi, director of the tournament. “And they’re very good, they’re the team to beat.”

It would be a huge upset by whichever team prevents the Fighting Irish from winning their first-ever B.C. Catholic tournament championship, as the province’s second ranked Senior AAA high school team is coming off a huge victory at a 12-team tournament in Saskatoon, which attracted some of the best high school teams in the four Western provinces. They defeated the top-ranked teams from Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba while winning four straight games.

Six-foot-eight forward Marc Trasolini was the MVP, while teammate Farris Tyab earned an all-star berth. Trasolini has committed to play in the NCAA next season with the Santa Clara Broncos, the same school which recruited Steve Nash in the early 1990s.

The Fighting Irish also placed second at the 32-team HSBC Classic in December, winning four games by an average of 37 points before losing in the championship game to the sixth-ranked Kitsilano Blue Demons.

If the host Crusaders are to get a shot at Vancouver College, it would be in the championship game Saturday night. To get there, Holy Cross will have needed a victory yesterday (Thursday) in the first round, and again this afternoon (Friday) in a semifinal contest.

“The boys have an OK chance, but they’ll have a tough time,” said Risi, who coached the boys team to B.C. Catholic championships in 1993 and 1997. “It’s a younger team this year, so it’s about getting some experience. But anything can happen.”

The Crusaders, currently coached by Matt Lechasseur, is 3-1 (won-lost) in the Senior AA boys Fraser Valley West division.

The St. Thomas More Knights, the defending champions in the boys division, are an honourable mention in a top 15 poll of Senior AAA high school teams and the likely opponent for the Crusaders in the semifinal round.

The defending champions, the Knights have won five B.C. Catholic championships.

The host school’s best chance for a championship is in the girls division, where the Crusaders are the tournament’s defending champions.

“The girls have a very good chance, they’re strong and they’re having a good season,” said Risi of the squad coached by Gianni Bittante.

Holy Cross is a perfect 5-0 in league play, and coming off a third place finish at the Surrey Firefighters Goodwill Classic tournament, where they won two of three games, including a 51-50 win in the consolation final over the Lord Tweedsmuir Panthers, a team ranked 14th in the Senior AAA provincial poll.

The Crusaders are led by point guard Megan Schaufele, the Most Inspirational Player at last year’s B.C. Catholic tournament, as well as a first team all-star. Forward Amy Beauchamp of Holy Cross was a second-team all-star a year ago.

The Holy Cross girls team played the Notre Dame Jugglers in the quarterfinal round yesterday, and with a win will face the St. Patrick’s Celtics in a semifinal game this afternoon at 4:30 p.m.

One of the largest high school tournaments in the province, the B.C. Catholic helps teams prepare for the stretch run in league play, as well as the Fraser Valley tournaments which follow.

“It’s all great preparation for the playoffs, playing against good competition in front of some large crowds,” said Risi.

The event involves a huge amount of volunteers, who arrange for awards, billeting for as many as 45 players, tonight’s dance/social, sponsorships, t-shirts for participants, referees and timekeepers.

“It’s all about building communities,” said Risi of the event. “About 300 students volunteer, as do more than 30 teachers and around 50 parents.

“And we have $6,000 in scholarships, and if a player can win a scholarship, that’s great. And it doesn’t have to go to the best player, academics and community service are factors as well.”

Schools represented by both girls and boys teams include Holy Cross, St. Thomas More, Immaculata (Kelowna), St. Thomas Aquinas (North Vancouver), St. John Brebeuf (Abbotsford), St. Andrew’s (Victoria), St. Patrick’s (Vancouver), Archbishop Carney (Coquitlam) and Notre Dame (Vancouver).

Vancouver College on the boys side and Vancouver’s Little Flower Academy girls teams round out the 20-team field.

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