The Ahousaht Maaqtusiis Suns came out on top of a eight-team tournament in Port Alberni on Jan. 26. They head to the All Native Basketball Tournament in Prince Rupert Feb. 10-16. (Curt McLeod photo)
The largest Nuu-chah-nulth nation will once again be represented by both a women’s team and a men’s club at the province’s most prestigious Indigenous basketball tournament.
The Ahousaht First Nation has entered squads in the senior women’s and senior men’s categories for this year’s All Native Basketball Tournament (ANBT).
The women’s entry is simply dubbed Ahousaht while the men’s squad is the Maaqtusiis Suns.
The 61st annual tourney, which is always held in Prince Rupert, will run from Feb. 10-16.
Esther Robinson, who is serving as the head coach and manager of the Ahousaht female entry, said it has probably been a half dozen years since Ahousaht has entered a team in the women’s division.
The squad will feature 12 players. Robinson said many of these athletes have competed for other First Nations at the ANBT in recent years.
“They have played for neighbouring tribes,” Robinson said. “But as long as they have some sort of lineage to Ahousaht they can play for us now.”
Robinson said only five of the 12 players on the team’s current roster actually live in the community of Ahousaht. The others do have a connection to the First Nation but are residing in urban centres now.
Robinson added the fact Ahousaht does not have all of its players living at home is one of the reasons the club did not send a team to the ANBT in recent years.
“But they’re all excited about going back to this big tournament for Ahousaht now,” she said.
Robinson anticipates one of the top Ahousaht players at the tourney will be 15-year-old Janae Sam, a forward who also stars for the Maaqtusiis Secondary School team.
“She’s got good ball-handling skills and she’s a good three-point shooter,” Robinson said.
Terri Robinson, (Esther’s daughter), is Ahousaht’s oldest player at 39 . Terri Robinson is also currently an elementary school teacher at Maaqtusiis School.
Esther Robinson is hoping her side will be able to gel quickly and fare well in the Prince Rupert, which features a double-knockout formula, meaning clubs will be eliminated after losing two matches.
“They haven’t played together for a few years,” she said. “But I’m hoping they can connect right away and click as a team.”
As for the Maaqtusiis Suns, they had fared well in recent versions of the ANBT. But the club decided not to attend the 2019 tournament because one of its top players, Travis Thomas, has been missing since August of 2018.
Thomas, a popular athlete and coach in Ahousaht, has not been seen since he went to remote Bartlett Island to reconnect with himself and help recover from troubling issues he was dealing with, including the sudden loss of his wife.
Harvey Robinson, who is the Suns’ head coach, said the clubs’ players opted not to attend the Prince Rupert tourney in 2019.
“The players didn’t feel it was right to go without (Thomas),” he said. “So they weren’t going to go without him.”
As for this year, Harvey said the Maaqtusiis squad will be dedicating the event to Thomas. But not with any sort of huge announcement.
“We’ve discussed it as a team,” he said. “We’re going to go there and do it on his behalf.”
Harvey said the Suns have lofty expectations for the event.
“We’re going to go there and try to win it,” he said.
The Suns have already had some success this year. The club won an eight-team event which concluded in Port Alberni on Sunday, Jan. 26. And it also placed third in the men’s category at the All My Relations tournament in Vancouver earlier this month.
Though the Vancouver event primarily featured Indigenous players, teams were allowed to have one non-Indigenous athlete on their roster.
Like their female counterparts from Ahousaht, the Suns’ roster also features 12 players. The club is expected to be led by centre Luke Robinson and point guard Greg Charlie.
The men’s division will feature 14 entrants while the women’s grouping has 16 teams entered.
The tournament also features a men’s masters grouping for those 35 and over and an intermediate men’s division for those who are 21 and under.
The event will feature a total of 54 teams, up from 51 entrants in 2019.
Tournament president Peter Haugan is pleased to see Ahousaht will be sending two squads this year.
“It will up the quality of the tournament,” he said. “The men have perennially been a Top 4 team.”
Haugan added the calibre of play in the men’s division will also be enhanced by the fact two clubs are coming from the state of Alaska. One of the American teams is named Hydaburg while the other is Sons of Tradition from Metlakatla.