The Hesquiaht Storm is once again expected to challenge for a prestigious basketball championship.
The girls’ under-17 squad will be competing at this year’s Junior All Native Tournament, which begins Monday and continues until March 24 in Kelowna.
The Storm had placed second at the 2013 tournament staged in New Aiyansh and followed that up with a fourth-place finish the following year when the event was held in Kamloops.
The Hesquiaht side enjoyed the experience of the championships in the last two years, but were in a rebuilding mode.
The Storm ended up placing seventh at the 2015 tourney, which it hosted in Nanaimo. And it finished eighth at last year’s tournament held in Williams Lake.
“Last year we rebuilt our roster after there were only two players left from the year before,” said Geno John, who is in his sixth season of coaching the Hesquiaht team. “Our oldest player turned 15 when we were at the tournament. We were competing against girls that were aging out, and some of them had turned 18 by the time the tournament started, which is allowed.”
John though is hoping his squad will be challenging for the title this year. "I am confident that our team will surpass last year's placing and excel to their top ability to compete for the championship game."
Storm has added veteran coach Tyson Touchie, who has championship experience, and “This year we’ve added a couple of new girls that will hopefully help us get past the Elite 8,” he said.
Those who have joined the Storm roster this season include cousins Destiny Hanson and Adrianne Michael. The pair are from the Ehattesaht First Nation but have an ancestral (grandmother) connection to Hesquiaht First Nation and are eligible to suit up for the Storm.
Hanson, who is 15, is a 5-foot-9 centre/forward, while Michael, 16, is a shooting guard.
“They’re going to be big contributors,” John said of these two newcomers to his squad. “They will add to our tenacity and drive.”
That would be 15-year-old point guard Memphis Dick. A year ago Dick was named to the tournament all-star team and also captured the Miss Hustle Award.
“If we had gotten to the Final Four or in the final last year she probably would have gotten the MVP and top scorer award as well,” John said.
For Dick, this will mark the fifth year that she has participated in the Junior All Native Tournament.
John’s daughter Dalainee, who recently became a teenager, is the only other player on the Storm roster who will be making her fifth appearance at this event.
“She’s been with our team since she was nine,” John said.
John’s niece, Jada Touchie, is also in the Hesquiaht lineup. Others on the team are Arianna Johnson-Sabbas and Shauntelle Dick.
All the players belong to their schools’ teams, and the Storm season starts when the school basketball season ends. "Our main focus is to ensure that their education comes first, then their extracurricular sports," said John.
About two dozen clubs are expected to participate in the girls’ under-17 division at the Junior All Native Tournament.
A boys’ under-17 division will also be held. And there will also be both girls’ and boys’ under-13 categories.
Members of the Storm are expected to start making their journey to Kelowna on Saturday morning. John is required to attend the coaches meeting which will be held on Sunday afternoon.
John said the Storm wouldn’t be able to get to the Jr. All-Natives without support from the Hesquiaht First Nation and corporate sponsors, including Cermaq Canada and Ratcliff & Co. The team also is fundraising.
All team members will then attend the tournament’s opening ceremonies set for Sunday night at Kelowna Secondary School.