Examining Our Past: Panthers set for title run

This article originally ran Feb. 26, 2016.

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Editor’s Note: This article originally ran Feb. 26, 2016. In light of the COVID-19 pandemic, we are tapping into our archives more, particularly for arts and sports. This special section will return to its regular schedule when the crisis concludes with Alberta reaching Phase 3 of its relaunch.

By Mitch Goldenberg

Sports Editor

The Spruce Grove Panthers senior girls basketball team used their host tournament last weekend to deliver a strong message to the high school basketball world.

They’re ready.

With playoffs set to begin on Feb. 29 in Spruce Grove, the defending city champions and provincial runners-up posted three dominant performances in two days to win the annual Panther Classic on Feb. 20.

“Our main goal was to progress as a team,” head coach Robyn Oldham said. “We wanted to win for sure, but with seven of the top 15 teams in Alberta here, we just wanted to play well.”

The weekend began with a 78-18 drubbing of E.P. Scarlett from Calgary. The Panthers employed a suffocating, high-tempo defence that the Lancers could rarely penetrate without turning the ball over.

“The best part was the kids who don’t get to play as much had excellent games,” Oldham said, referring to the younger students who come off the bench. “We got to see them go out, have fun and build trust in themselves.”

The real test came in the next game, when the Panthers drew Jasper Place in the semifinals. The Panthers lost both their games this season against the Rebels, with the last one coming earlier this month in league play by a margin of three points.

“I’m not going to lie, I woke up (Saturday) morning with a little bit of doubt on whether we could beat J.P.,” Grade 12 veteran Kathryn Sutherland said. “We needed to take away what was most important to them, their shooters and their drives to the baseline.”

The Panthers wound up blowing out Jasper Place 62-43. Oldham says the result came from an intense mental effort by the Panthers to tighten their defence and force the Rebels out of their comfort zone.

“J.P. has really good athletes and are all good competitors. If you let them see the rim, it’s going to be hard to stop them,” Oldham said. “We took away the baseline and forced them into making tough decisions that frazzled them.”

Point guard Jenna Harpe explained that the adjustments were all mental.

“In our heads, we just said ‘we’re not going to let them get through,’ Harpe said. “Once it clicked, they just couldn’t get through. It was tiring, but the energy in our gym was amazing, and we just kept pushing.”

In the finals, the Panthers tipped off against Western Canada High School, who hold a share of first place in the Calgary division.

“They are a fantastic young team,” Oldham said. “They are deadly if you let them get going because they have height, they can
shoot and they are quick around the guard.”

But the Panthers picked up right where they left off against Jasper Place, building a sturdy lead and maintaining it with strong defence. The win capped off two tiring days where the Panthers proved they can top the elite teams this season, beating the second and third ranked teams in Alberta in the semis and finals.

“We’re a fast-paced, high energy team and we’re mentally tough,” Sutherland said. “This weekend was a great step for our team, and we now see the possibilities are wide open at provincials.”

The Panthers are 9-2 in league play this season, having lost to Jasper Place and St. Albert. If the third-place Panthers can get through the quarter finals on Feb. 29 and the semifinals on March 2, they will play in the city championship on March 5.

If you know of any sports news or events happening in the area, email jothomas@postmedia.com

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