Owls’ junior hoopsters claim gold

Jamie Mountain

They were the best team in the regular season and rightfully earned the bye to the NorWOSSA ‘A’ junior girls’ basketball final.
And as it turns out, they were the best team between them and the host St. Thomas Aquinas Saints last week in Kenora.
The Rainy River Owls capped an undefeated season with NorWOSSA gold as they downed the Saints 37-25 score on Thursday.
The Owls led 24-17 at halftime and were up by as much as 32-21 after the third quarter.
The Saints made things interesting in the final quarter, outscoring the Owls 14-5, but some late free-throws helped to secure the win.
Owls’ head coach Corey Smith did not respond to a request for comment prior to the deadline.
As for the Owls’ senior squad, they fell short of NorWOSSA gold with a 52-30 loss to the Saints in last Thursday’s final.
The top-ranked Saints led the second-place Owls 20-10 after the first quarter and were ahead 35-21 at halftime.
It didn’t get any easier for the Owls from there as they were outscored 17-9 in the second half en route to settling for the silver medal.
Paige Stamler led the Owls in scoring.
“To be honest, T.A. was the better team,” head coach Rebecca Tolen conceded. “They are well-rounded, strong, and tall.
“[But] we worked incredibly hard and made them earn every bucket,” she noted.
“It was a pretty good game for my girls,” she added. “Lilly Blakeney started out the game scoring the first two baskets and we had them worried for a bit.
“We shot good shots and played hard defence, only allowing 25 baskets to be scored on us the whole game,” Tolen recalled.
“We were also clean with very few fouls.”
Rainy River had advanced to the final after downing the third-place Atikokan Voyageurs 39-29 in the semi-final last Wednesday.
The Owls led 12-3 after the first quarter but the Voyageurs fought back to trim it to 17-16 at halftime.
But the squad regained its composure in the third quarter, not allowing Atikokan to get within six points the rest of the way.
“The keys to success against Atikokan was our defence was clean and strong,” noted Tolen. “We [also] passed the ball well, opening big holes for open shots.
“The girls boxed out first, then rebounded, which led to good scoring opportunities and great transition plays.”
Aynsley Williams was able to draw 10 fouls in the win–five of which led to free throws.
“She scored 8-of-10 of those, assisting her to be the high scorer, followed by Lilly Blakeney,” Tolen said.
Moving forward, the Owls will be losing nine of their 10 players to graduation, so it’s safe to say they will have a much different look next season.
But it’s a reality Tolen is more than willing to embrace.
“It’s an odd cohort and [we] have very few girls in Grade 11 at all,” she noted.
“My hopes for my one returning girl, Taytum Stone, is for her to step up to become the leader of a strong team.
“She is a strong player and others look up to her,” she lauded. “She just needs to realize it for herself.
“With the junior girls winning [NorWOSSA] this year, it should be a good season next year,” Tolen predicted.