Aaron Steenhof drives the lane during the Mountain Invitational.

Aaron Steenhof drives the lane during the Mountain Invitational.

Gryphons win Mountain Tournament

Home team takes three straight, BVCS falters in opener

oys are hometown champs.

The squad from Smithers won the Mountain Invitational tournament this past weekend, defeating three teams from the northwest along the way.

“It’s a pretty big deal to come out on top in a home tournament,” head coach Mike Fraser said. “Last year we came in fourth and it was a bit of a heartbreaker. The guys wanted it pretty bad and you could tell they put it all on the line.”

The Gryphons got started with a 15-point win over Hazelton on Friday night, setting themselves up for a rematch of last year’s semifinal against Vanderhoof’s Northside.

“They were definitely one of the toughest teams in the tournament for sure,” Fraser said.

SSS came out undaunted.

Eventual tournament MVP Caleb Gorbahn led the team out of the gate, scoring early and often on Vanderhoof.

The Gryphons built up a 10-point lead early and never let Northside back into the game.

In the final, the result was never really in doubt.

The boys from Smithers cruised to a 20-point win over Houston Christian.

Fraser credits his player’s hard work for their success.

“They have played a lot of ball and we have a lot of gym rats on this team,” he said.

“Even when they aren’t practicing, they are working on their game. They love the game and it shows.”

For Fraser, the win sent a message that this team can challenge for the Triple-A northwest zone title. “That’s the ultimate goal,” he said. “We haven’t won in 28 years, but I think we’ve got a shot. If the guys can continue to work and keep their heads in it, anything can happen.”

It won’t be easy for the Gryphons though; they’ve got to beat the northwest’s best Triple-A teams to advance.

Most years, they are seeded as a Double-A team, but because of a larger than usual senior class size, they’ve been moved up a division.

“Caledonia and Prince Rupert are very tough teams. But we’ve come close to them in the past.”

In their favour, the Gryphons have a deep, veteran roster, filled with Grade 12s, and they’ll have homecourt advantage for the tournament, that takes place on the first weekend in March.

In order to take the next step and represent Smithers at provincials, Fraser thinks his team needs some more seasoning against some elite clubs in the northwest.

“We need to work on better ball control and a lot of times when we play a stronger team we fold under pressure. It just comes down to getting experience playing with that pressure on us.”

Strong, full-court defence is difficult to replicate in a practice setting, so Fraser has scheduled a few more play days in the lead-up to zones.

They’ll head to Prince Rupert next weekend for a play day, where they’ll see some stiffer competition than they did at this week’s tournament.

In addition to tournament MVP Caleb Gorbahn, the Gryphons had three other players singled out for individual honours. Scott Hawkins, Matt Fowler and Robert Hamlin were all named players of the game and Fowler was also named as the defensive player of the tournament.

Things didn’t go quite as well at the Mountain Invitational tournament for the defending champions from Bulkley Valley Christian School.

They lost their first game of the tournament, Friday night to the Houston Wolverines, and suffered an early exit as a result.

“Our team had a tough weekend,” head coach Chris Steenhof said.

“We had a very bad first half of our first game, then we lost one of our key players and that injury left us with only seven men for the rest of the weekend.”

Forward Ty Goodson went down with the aforementioned injury, but Steenhof does expect him back in the lineup soon.

The BVCS Royals went toe-to-two with Hazelton during their second game of the tournament on Saturday afternoon, before running out of gas and losing by double digits.

Their third game, against Mount Elizabeth from Kitimat, provided a similar storyline.

Despite the losses, Steenhof has found something positive to take away from the tournament.

“It was a bit of a wake-up call for us,” he said.

“It’s motivation for us for the rest of the year. We realize what we need to work on and now we have to make sure that we make those improvements.”

The Royals are still aiming to win their Single-A zones over Houston Christian and Hazelton in late February.

“It’s going to be a competitive tournament,” Steenhof said.

“It’s wide open this year and any one of those teams could come out as a champion.”

BVCS is scheduled to travel to Prince George for a play day next weekend, though they might have to cancel because of injuries.

They may also schedule some exhibition games in the lead-up to the zone tournament.

On a more positive note, Aaron Steenhof was one of the leading scorers in the entire tournament, tallying 75 points over the three games played.

As well, Caleb Groot won the tournament free-throw shooting competition, beating out every single player in attendance on the weekend.

His six free throws in a row beat out 80 challengers.

Overall, the tournament, which was co-hosted by BVCS and SSS, went extremely well.

“Chris and I worked together on this, and a lot of other people who helped out,” SSS head coach Mike Fraser said.

“It takes so many people to put an event like this on.”

Steenhof agreed.

“The tournament was awesome,” Steenhof said.

“It was great to co-host with SSS and bring the community together.

“The players and the coaches from all the teams were in good spirit all weekend long and there was a lot of great basketball played.”