Asim Bharwani via Flickr.com
When legendary Richmond educator Bob Carkner introduced his sons and their young classmates to basketball in the 1970s, it’s unlikely he imagined the heights of popularity the roundball game would reach on Lulu Island.
Today, Richmond’s youth basketball league—which Carkner spawned with his biddy program—is enjoying record levels of participation. And with the tip-off of the high school season, excitement is at a feverish pitch.
Falling just a game shy last spring of reaching the provincial championships for a fourth straight year, the McMath Wildcats senior girls’ team is set on returning to the show.
Though five players from last year’s team have graduated, including two-time Richmond MVP Abby Zawada who is now playing at the University of Fraser Valley and first team all-star Martha Melaku at Capilano University, McMath (7-0 and Richmond champions last year) seem poised to be a powerhouse.
The only team from the Lower Mainland to start the year ranked in the top 15 in the province, McMath has a competitive schedule that coaches Chris Kennedy (in his 32nd year) and Anne Gillrie Carre (in her 43rd year) are confident will help prepare the team for playoffs. That heavy schedule begins early, with the Wildcats to face provincial powers Abbotsford, South Kamloops and Walnut Grove all before the Christmas break.
McMath will be led by six returning Grade 12s including last year’s second team all-star Jayna Wilson and the school’s Grade 11 athlete of the year Morgan Flynn. Other seniors are Jazmine Tufnail, Madison Bigras, Leah Hillman and Bella Lawson.
There are also five underage players on this year’s squad: Abby Bodden, Kate Carkner and Hope Chan, all coming off final-four appearances at last year’s Grade 9 provincials. Caitlin Kippan and Marina Radocaj are regarded as two of the province’s top Grade 8 players, and join Liz Kennedy as the only three girls in the 20-year history of McMath to be full-time senior players as Grade 8s.
Grade 10s Grace Wallace, Fran Trahan and Amani Mahamoor complete the roster.
McMath also proved to be a power among Richmond’s senior boys’ teams last year, with the Richmond Colts strong second-place finishers and McNair Marlins a close third.
This year, the league could be even more competitive if the likes of MacNeill Ravens and Cambie Crusaders realize their goals.
Longtime local high school basketball coach Brian Meier has high hopes for this year’s Crusaders, who were 4-6 last season but showed plenty of potential.