With the court as their battleground and a basketball in place of spears, the girls of Vincent Massey hoops emerged victorious from their own Trojan War.
'It feels good to win when it really matters'
On Monday night, the Vincent Massey Trojans vanquished the Sisler Spartans 70-53 to claim Manitoba's top high school basketball title, sealing the deal in front of a roaring crowd at the University of Manitoba's Investors Group Athletic Centre. It is the Trojans' first championship since 2009-10, and the fact that it came off of a positively Hellenic matchup against the top-seeded and previously unbeaten Spartans... well, that just sweetened the win.
"It's unbelievable," beamed Grade 12 Trojans guard Atoosa Jalayeri, who racked up 11 points, 13 rebounds and five steals and was named the tournament MVP. "I remember last year, watching the Final Four. We didn't quite make it, actually lost to Sisler. I looked down from the stands and it was a dream. Now, it's a dream come true."
The game ended as it began, in a thunder of cheers from the stands. Each of the two rowdy ranks of fans were led by a duelling warrior mascot, clad in crested helmets and homemade battle gear: a green and black tunic for Massey's eager Hector, a red cape for Sisler's hoplite -- or was he their shirtless, be-sneakered Menelaus? At any rate, with apologies to well-trodden mythology, the Spartans bore no wooden horse this time, and launched no devastating siege.
Instead, it was the Trojans who struck first and hardest, opening up a 21-12 lead by the end of the first quarter. Sisler had no answer for Massey's 6-foot forward Keylyn Filewich, who potted four of her five deuce attempts and grabbed five rebounds in those first 10 minutes alone. Nor was she the only one to step up big in that first frame: the Trojans' attack ran deep and their defence came up strong.
"It was really important to get the nerves out, calm ourselves down and really get into the game," said Filewich, who though still a freshman finished with 18 points and 14 boards. "Our defence was spot on today. We were talking, our communication was great. Offensively, we were going to the boards and getting more rebounds than them."
The Spartans tightened their defence after that, forcing Filewich into sloppier shots in the second quarter -- she hit just one of six attempts there -- and limiting Massey to 14 points. But the Sisler squad was without its own top general, as freshman guard Kyanna Giles is in Edmonton this week trying out for the national team. Her twin sister, Kyia, wore her No. 11 jersey in her place, and finished with eight points and six rebounds.
Still, the Spartans bravely pushed back. Led by forward Tiara Licsi, who finished with 15 points and four rebounds, the Sisler squad scored 22 points in the final quarter, more than they made in the middle two frames combined. It wasn't nearly enough to climb out of the hole, especially not while the Trojans were adding 21 more points of their own. Sisler was 31-0 entering the Final Four.
Meanwhile, much of this Massey team will be back next season, led by Filewich and a wealth of other talented grade 10 and 11 players carrying the lessons they learned in the battle for this banner. "We've been trying to beat them and we've had struggles, we've lost to them by lots, we've been close," Filewich said. "It feels good to win when it really matters... it's a nice start to my high school career."