John Dykstra knows what it feels like to be on the outside looking in.
Last year, for the first time in more than a decade, his White Rock Christian Warriors failed to qualify for B.C. High School Boys Basketball Championships; WRCA was bounced in the Fraser Valley tournament after an upset loss to the lower-ranked Fleetwood Park Dragons.
And watching from the sidelines after such a prolonged stretch of excellence didn’t sit well with the veteran coach, nor with any of his players – seven of which are back again this year.
“It’s not going to happen again,” Dykstra proclaimed last week, a few days before his squad was set to tip off the season with an exhibition tilt against their South Surrey neighbours from Southridge School.
“I’m a competitor, and if I’m going to volunteer this much time, and the guys are going to put in so much time practising and working hard, you want that sense of achievement.
“I’m happy about where we’re headed, and at the end of the year, I want to be right there. We should be there – that’s what makes this fun.”
White Rock Christian heads into the senior boys AAA season ranked No. 5 in B.C. – “I think that we’re that good, that we belong in that spot, but we’ll know more after the first week,” Dykstra said – but they’ll have some competition trying to get out of the Fraser Valley Southwest division and following that, out of the whole Valley conference.
Tamanawis, which made it to provincials last year, is again expected to be one of the better teams in Surrey, while Fleetwood Park, Earl Marriott and Elgin Park – all competitive squads in past years – could again be tough outs for the rest of the teams in the division; both EMS and Elgin are led by new coaches this season.
White Rock Christian boasts a lot of depth this season – led by, among others, Jake Newman, Tyus Allen, last year’s junior boys provincial MVP Sam Ykema, and the currently injured Shaylen Buis – and has a good mix of returning players and newcomers. Nine players from last year’s provincial-championship winning junior team are on the Warriors’ senior squad this fall.
Another key player, Erik Fougner, will be sidelined for much of the season after suffering a serious knee injury, but Dykstra predicted he’d find his way onto the court at some point.
“I think he’ll be back. I think he’s going to have that Rudy-style comeback, I really do,” the coach said.
Dykstra expects the Grade 11s – “they’re a very talented group,” he said – to push the Grade 12s for playing time, while also inject a little confidence into the team.
“The junior kids coming up who are provincial champions, they feel like champions. And you mix that with the guys who remember what it feels like (to not qualify for senior provincials),” Dykstra said.
“As we head into the playoffs, that might be a good combination.”
Across town, the Earl Marriott Mariners will be looking to improve on last year, too. Last year, under coach Sean Stewart, EMS advanced to Fraser Valleys for the first time in year, but were bounced in the first round by No. 2-seeded Pitt Meadows.
Now guided by former Kitsilano Secondary coach Christopher Finlay, am EMS alum who recently moved back to the Peninsula, the team will look to repeat, if not improve upon, last year’s mark.
“We definitely want to make the Fraser Valleys,” he said. “And we’ve got a very good group of committed kids, so there’s no reason that it can’t happen.”
The Mariners won’t be an overly big squad this year, Finlay said, but they’re a quick group, that “has a lot of guys who can knock down shots.”
Finlay has installed a motion-style offence, and also plans on being very aggressive on the defensive side of the ball.
“I’m a pretty aggressive coach – I like to play that style,” he said.
Finlay will rely on his Grades 12 to lead the team, most notably Zach Short and David Ko.
“Those guys have really been the leaders of the group so far,” Finlay said.
Like WRCA, which has already played a handful of games – and this week will play at the HSBC Basketball Classic, as will the Southridge Storm – the Mariners have hit the court already, too. In late November, they played an exhibition tilt against Finlay’s old squad from Kits, who are ranked No. 6 in B.C. in preseason AAA rankings.
“Well, they took it to us pretty good,” Finlay said of the game. “But it was good for us to get that experience, because we’re going to have to face good teams this year.”
Elgin Park, under new coach Dan Walker – who coached the Orcas’ junior boys squad last season – will also be “in a bit of rebuilding mode still.”
The Orcas’ roster will have just four Grade 12s but a slew of talented Grade 11 players off last year’s junior squad that went 21-9.
“We’re going to have a young team, and the Grade 11s will carry a lot of the weight,” Walker said.
“But I think we can be good. We won’t be big, but we’re quick.”
Walker said the team’s goal is the playoffs and beyond that, the Fraser Valley championships. And though no Elgin Park senior boys team has ever qualified for provincials, Walker wouldn’t dismiss the possibility out of hand, either.
“That might be a bit of a longshot. Being my first year coaching at the senior level, I know how good our team is, but not the other guys,” Walker said.
“But if not this year, then next year – with the Grade 11s we have now – I think we’ll be good.”
The Orcas, who have been practising and playing exhibition games the last few weeks minus five players still playing volleyball, will be led offensively by Grade 12 guard/forward Christian Venegas and a trio of Grade 11s – Kevin Fang, Brett Walker and Sam Conti.
Elgin Park’s first league game is slated for Dec. 13 against South Delta.
Storm aim for another B.C. run
Despite heading into the senior boys double-A hoops season ranked No. 10 in the province, Southridge Storm head coach Steve Anderson considers his club “something of an unknown.”
“I think tenth is the proper place to have us start, but I’m not sure how we’ll end up,” he said.
“But I do think we’ll be a pretty decent team again this year. I really do think we’ll do well.”
The Storm are coming off back-to-back sixth-place finishes at provincials, and Anderson figures his team will again be in the mix for a top-five spot.
“We’ve had a pretty good run here the last few years, and this team is as good as any of them,” he said.
While not overly big, Southridge does boast a bevy of shooters, as well as a good group of returning seniors, led by Jonathan Yu and Shahbaj Dhillon.
“Jonathan will definitely be leaned on quite a bit,” Anderson said of his Grade 12 guard.
Last year, Yu led the team in assists and was third in points-per-game. Dhillon, meanwhile, primarily came off the bench for the Storm last season, but still finished second in scoring.
Anderson was also excited to see how Justin Bhuttar, who takes to a bigger role on the team. Despite being in Grade 11, he’s entering his second year on the senior squad.
“He’s a guy to keep an eye on,” Anderson said.
This week, the Storm are on the court at the Telus Basketball Classic, which began last week and wraps up Saturday.