The Glenlawn Lions are two games away from back-to-back AAAA varsity girls’ championships.
The No. 2-ranked Lions rolled through their quarter-final matchup on Saturday, defeating Fort Richmond 68-46 to set up a semifinal date with the Miles Macdonell Buckeyes on Thursday at 8 p.m.
The third-ranked Buckeyes present a challenge in large part because of how familiar the players are with one another.
Coach Karl Schroeder has been working with his current group of Grade 11 players, which includes his daughter Julia, since many of them were 10 years old.
"They’re like an extension of my family," he said following an 80-66 quarter-final win over Westwood on Saturday. "This group has been together for a very long time, and we have three really special Grade 12s who provide the missing links of leadership."
The Buckeyes have been near the top of the provincial rankings all season long, and expected to challenge for a championship.
"The girls have a real commitment to each other," Schroeder said. "They have a lot of talent, but they’re also willing to work. They have a wonderful work ethic."
Co-coach Erin Drazic said the focus in Thursday’s semifinal against Glenlawn wouldn’t be a secret: the Buckeyes will need to figure out how to slow down Emily Potter, Glenlawn’s dominant inside player.
"Our focus will be defence and rebounding," Drazic said. "If we do that, the offence usually takes care of itself."
The first semifinal on Thursday will feature top-seeded, and undefeated, Oak Park against No. 5 Sisler at the Investors Group Athletic Centre.
No matter who wins the championship on Monday, their celebration will be hard-pressed to top the jubilation shown by Sisler on Saturday.
The Spartans scratched and clawed all afternoon in their quarter-final matchup with the Vincent Massey Trojans before finally asserting themselves in the latter stages of the fourth quarter. Sisler, the fifth seed, squeaked out a 45-42 win over the fourth-seeded Trojans in a game in which no basket was conceded without a fight.
"It feels amazing," said Spartans captain Pamela Zaldarriaga, a Grade 12 forward. "We’re a small team, and no one expected us to be here. It’s a big step for us to get to the final four. Last year we lost in the quarter-finals, so it’s big for us to go one step further."
Sisler coach Mike Tan said Saturday’s game was typical for his group — a workmanlike effort that may have been short on style points.
"We’re a hard-working group," said Tan, who isn’t shy with his criticism from the sideline. "They’ve busted their butts for me all year. They’re absorbing what I’m saying, even though sometimes it’s a little bit of tough love. They know I want them to succeed."
The Spartans know they’ll need a near-perfect game to upset the Raiders.
"We can’t be scared," Zaldarriaga said. "We have to play our game. It’s going to be tough, but we’ll give them a challenge."
Tan said the Raiders present an enormous problem for opponents because instead of having two or three weapons that need to be stopped, they have five or six. The Raiders beat Garden City 76-64 to advance.
The semifinal winners will play for the provincial title on Monday at 6 p.m., followed by the boys’ final at 8 p.m. at the U of M.