Jill Jeffrey, Shauntelle Dick-Charleson and Destiny Hansen rest while the Hesquiaht Storm plays at the Junior All Native Basketball Tournament in Kitimat in March. The Storm finished third in the under-17 girls division. (Submitted photos)
This year’s Junior All Native Basketball Tournament threw a grueling schedule at the Hesquiaht Storm, but the veteran group was able to come away with a 6-2 record, finishing third out of 23 teams in the under-17 girls division.
The Storm played eight games in four days at the tournament in Kitimat and Kitamaat Village, which ended on March 22. Hosted by the Haisla Nation, JANT attracted 84 total teams from across B.C. in girls and boys divisions.
With some games just a few hours apart, the schedule required each of the Storm’s 11 members to see lots of action.
“We made sure that we balanced the floor with our entire team,” said the Storm’s coach Geno John.
“We were all really sore and tired, but we also got to work out our game together, which was good,” said player Jill Jeffrey, who turned 18 this year. “We had lots ice baths…just to relax muscles.”
The tournament began with the Storm falling 53-61 to Hazelton. But the Hesquiaht group rebounded to convincingly beat Bella Bella’s under-17 girls team 63-45. The following day brought more wins against a young Klemtu team 84-28, followed by a 75-33 victory over New Aiyansh 75-33.
That Wednesday night a dance was held at the tournament, but John and team manager Lila Charleson stressed the need for the girls ensure they got rest for another demanding day on the hardwood.
“We kept them focused,” said John. “We knew we had three games ahead of us on that Thursday morning.”
“We just try to give them support in teaching them to stay healthy and get proper sleep,” added Charleson. “They know what to expect once we’re at the Junior All-Native.”
More wins followed against Bella Coola, Kaien Island and Skidegate, which brought the Storm to face Greenville in the semi-finals. Greenville won the Junior All Native in 2018.
“We had to give it all,” recalled Jeffrey of the final game. “We fell short a bit in the start and it ended up that the other team was putting in a little more effort.”
“We had a good start for the first quarter…and then our shots just didn’t fall,” said John. “We can’t blame the refs. It was just the way the game went.”
Hazelton ended up winning the U-17 girls division.
This was the eighth year in a row the Hesquiaht Storm have sent an under-17 girls team to JANT. Noteworthy performances included player of the game recognition to Jada Touchie, Sereana Kaloucokovale, Jill Jeffrey and Destiny Hansen. Jeffrey and Hansen were also named all stars in the tournament.
Jeffrey and three more of the Hesquiaht team’s players are aging out of JANT eligibility this year, while the Storm’s youngest is 15-year-old Kristiana McKnight.
“We had one new addition and she fit in perfect,” said John of the 15 year old. “She knew the style of our game. She caught onto our offense and defence drills due to her school ball athleticism.”
With players from Ahousaht, Ucluelet, Port Alberni, Nanaimo, Victoria and Vancouver, all members of the team regularly play basketball for their schools. The Storm prepared for JANT after school play wound down in late February, using Nanaimo as a central location to practice.
“We had a short period of time from the end of February to March 16 before we departed,” said John. “We did have a few tournaments and a couple of practices.”
Jeffrey represented Nanaimo’s Wellington Secondary this last winter, but playing for the Hesquiaht team brings a different meaning for the athlete.
“This is what my dad did and his grandparents, they played in all native basketball tournaments too, so it’s a lot more meaningful,” she said.
The trip to the northern coastal community of Kitimat presented a considerable investment for the team, which relied on online fundraising for the trip as well as contributions from sponsors. John said the players’ families pushed to cover travel costs by selling getaways, a raffle draws, an auction and bake sale. He’s thankful of the extensive support from sponsors, families and the players’ communities.
“We get a lot of trust from the parents in having their daughter along with us in taking them to tournaments and making sure that they have a place to stay,” said John.
“When they get together they’re always so excited to be together and to spend every moment of just having good happy, healthy times together,” added Charleson.
Several other Nuu-chah-nulth teams competed at the Junior All Native Basketball Tournament, including Tseshaht Pride, Tseshaht Wolves, NCN Lady Warriors, Ahousaht Mystics, Ahousaht Wolfpack, Maaqtusiis Magic, NCN Young Gunz and Port Alberni Warriors.