As the defending champs and No. 1 ranked team in B.C., expectations for the hosts were sky high heading into the 43rd Interior Savings Western Canada Basketball Tournament.
And although perhaps not at the pinnacle of their game, the Kelowna Owls rose to the challenge to capture the much sought-after title for the second straight year.
The Owls continued their undefeated season against B.C. opponents with an 84-71 victory over the second-ranked Sir Winston Churchill Bulldogs Saturday night in front of more than 2,000 fans at KSS.
“The expectations were definitely there and there was some pressure on the boys, but they handled it very well,” said Owls’ head coach Harry Parmar, whose team ended a 33-year title drought with last year’s win. “The guys who won it for the second time feel really good about, and it was nice to see the first-year guys get a chance to experience that.
“We travel a ton during the season, so it was nice for the guys to do this in front of the school, their friends and classmates,” he added.
Parker Simson paced the Owls in the final with 18 points and 15 rebounds. Matt Lafontaine
added 16 points, Grant Shephard had 15 and Mason Bourcier, 13, while Davide Ciancio pulled down 15 rebounds.
The Owls easily disposed of Handsworth in the tournament opener 85-44, as Bourcier had 23 points and eight boards.
In the semi-final Friday, KSS took care of Alberta’s No. 1 team, Edmonton Harry Ainlay, 81-60.
The 6-foot-9 Shephard, the tournament’s MVP and Best Owl award winner, had 20 points, while Bourcier, the defensive MVP, added 15 points.
Simson and Bourcier were named to the tournament’s first all-star team while Colin McGrath made the second team.
The 2015-16 Owls, who many observers consider the best team KSS has ever assembled, didn’t have their best offensive game throughout the tournament but Parmar said his players compensated with solid defense.
Also on the upside, Parmar said with their biggest games of the season yet to come, his team still has room to improve.
“This tournament was a great stepping stone for us, we found out we still have things to take care of, our execution can be better,” he said, “so knowing that we still won without our best basketball, I think is good for us and where we need to improve.”
As coveted as the title at the Western Canada Basketball Tournament is for the Owls, there is a grander prize that awaits in just over a month—the B.C. AAAA boys championship in Langley.
“We have one more thing we have to take care of,” said Parmar, whose Owls placed third at provincials in 2015. “Then the season will be complete.”
The next step towards provincials is the Okanagan Valley AAAA championship, set for Feb 25 and 26 at KSS.