After winning seven provincial titles, including the previous two in a row, there wasn’t a whole lot left to challenge the Immaculata Mustangs at single A level of B.C. girls basketball.
Kelowna’s version of a high school basketball dynasty, the Mustangs this season stepped up a tier to AA and didn’t miss a beat.
On Saturday in Langley, Immaculata defeated Little Flower Academy 68-55 to capture the school’s first ever provincial AA championship.
Senior Emma Johnson paced the Mustangs with 21 points and 17 rebounds, while Grade 11 post Nicole Hart added 15 points and 14 boards.
With just around 300 students, Immaculata was by far the smallest school at provincials.
Johnson, who was named an all-star and the top defensive player at provincials, said the Mustangs proved again bigger isn’t necessarily better.
“We had a lot of success in single A, and we knew it would be tough make the step up,” said Johnson who will attend UBC Okanagan next season. “But a lot of hard work went into it and our goal all along this year was to win another title.
“It was pretty historical for our little school,” she added, “and it’s nice to be the first ones to get that 2A banner.”
The Mustangs faced their biggest challenge in the semifinal where they were pushed to the limit by St. Thomas More before emerging with an 82-80 victory.
Immaculata head coach Andrew Gini said Johnson, with 38 points, was the difference.
“We were down five with a couple of minutes left, and Emma just wasn’t going to lose no matter what, she just took over,” said Gini. “She hit six free throws in a row in the fourth quarter and helped carry us to the win. She was amazing again.”
In moving up a tier this season, one of the challenges the Mustangs faced for the first time was dealing with the sheer size and hyped-up environment inside the Langley Events Centre.
Gini was impressed with the way his team responded.
“It was definitely something the girls didn’t have any experience with, the size of the facility, all the people, the atmosphere,” he said. “They handled it very well. “
Johnson was named the tournament’s top defensive player, while she and teammate Ashlyn Day made the first all-star team.
The gold medal on Saturday marked the fourth straight B.C. championship for three graduating members of the Mustangs—Emma Johnson, Lindsay Lalach and Jaedyn Penkala.
The trio won the Grade 9 girls title in 2012, followed by the single A championships in 2013 and 2014.
Meanwhile, the Mustangs’ program, which has evolved over the last decade-plus under the guidance of former head coach Dino Gini, will be back to defend their title at the 2A level next year.
“We’re in double-A to stay,” said Andrew Gini. “If we won, we knew we belonged here. There would be no point in going back down.”
The rest of the B.C. champion Mustangs are: Stephanie McCann, Kate Johnson, Katelyn Kohlen, Amanda Grant, Ashley Prehofer, Cassidy McLellan and Teaghan Wallace.