The Hesquiaht Descendants were able to enjoy some success at this year’s All Native Basketball Tournament (ANBT).
But an early loss to the eventual champs of the women’s category at the event, which concluded this past Saturday in Prince Rupert, hindered the Descendants’ chances of even more glory.
The Hesquiaht squad was the only Nuu-chah-nulth entry in the tournament, which featured four divisions. Besides the women’s category, this year’s ANBT also included three men’s groupings. There was the highest calibre senior men’s division as well as intermediate (21 and under) and masters (35 and over) categories.
The ANBT, which has been running for 63 years, is the largest Indigenous adult basketball tournament in the province.
The Descendants ended up playing five matches at the tournament, which featured a double-knockout format, meaning clubs were eliminated from further action after their second loss.
The Hesquiaht side handily won its opening match, 77-30 over Kitkatla. But the Descendants were edged 56-50 by a club dubbed Similkameen in its second outing.
The Hesquiaht squad managed to register victories in its next two matches. For starters it posted a convincing 73-32 win over Massett. And then it downed Hazelton 54-51.
But the Descendants had their tourney come to an end when they were edged 68-64 by Greenville on Feb. 18.
“We led most of that game,” said Mariah Charleson, the captain of the Hesquiaht side. “And we let it go in the last couple of minutes.”
Charleson said the Greenville club hit “some lucky shots” in the late stages of the match.
“They had a 30-foot bank shot,” Charleson said. “And they were just dropping everything.”
Similkameen went on to take top honours in the women’s division, trouncing Kitamaat 66-25 in the championship final.
“It was a good game,” Charleson said of her team’s matchup against Similkameen. “And it showed how we are capable of playing.”
Charleson added that the Descendants’ early setback against Similkameen proved to be costly as they had to fight their way back into possible contention via the lower bracket of the tournament.
Charleson said her side had some lofty expectations heading into the Prince Rupert tourney.
“We believe we could have been a Top 3 team,” she said. “I still believe this. And we proved that by being the only team to really give Similkameen a good run.”
The Descendants did not receive an official placing in the tournament. Five other squads, however, were still alive when they were eliminated.
Because of their first loss to Similkameen, the Descendants would have been required to play a rather exhausting schedule just to reach the championship final in their division. Had they managed to beat Greenville and continue playing on, the Descendants would have needed two more victories to set up a rematch with Similkameen.
Charleson, who founded the Descendants in 2015, felt this was the best Hesquiaht team assembled for the ANBT.
“This is the strongest Hesquiaht team we’ve ever brought up,” she said.
The club’s best finish, however, thus far remains its inaugural appearance at the 2015 tourney, when it placed fourth in its division.
As for this year, a total of nine players were on the Hesquiaht roster that travelled to Prince Rupert. But they had their share of obstacles.
For starters, it was quite the challenge just trying to get all team members together.
Prior to the ANBT, the Descendants only played one other tournament this season. They ended up winning a Port Alberni tourney last August.
But partly because of travel logistics not all team members were able to participate in that event.
Charleson and two of her teammates, Jaylynn Lucas and Janae Sam, live in Nanaimo. Other members of the squad live in Port Alberni, Victoria or Hot Springs Cove.
Besides travel issues, Charleson said the squad was hindered by the fact many communities simply cannot afford to run tournaments these days. Thus, the Descendants’ other playing options were virtually non-existent.
While they did not have any recent events to compete in prior to the ANBT, Charleson said some of the club’s players who live close to each other were able to occasionally practice together.
Seven of the Hesquiaht team members had previously competed at the ANBT. The two newcomers were Jenelle Sabbas and Maliyah Sam-English.
The Descendants’ roster also included Shania Sabbas (Jenelle’s cousin), Dalainee John, Jada Touchie and Destiny Hanson.
Meanwhile, John White served as the team’s manager.
The Descendants did their share of fundraising in order to be able to afford to attend the tournament. The club also had several sponsors that assisted with expenses including Hesquiaht First Nation, Barkley Project Group, Ratcliff LLP, Atleo Air, Speers Construction, Ha’oom Fisheries Society and Full Moon Enterprises.