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McMath Wildcats enter hoop season ranked No. 1

By Don Fennell

Published 4:00 PST, Fri November 22, 2019

It was just around 20 years ago today that the McMath Wildcats made their high school basketball debut.

Since then, all the ‘Cats have done is claw out victory after victory, making them one of the most successful programs in the province during the past two decades. Clearly, excellence begets excellence as the senior girls’ team enters the 2019-20 season ranked No. 1 in B.C. at the AAA level—despite losing five players from last year’s squad including point guard Jayna Wilson, now playing at Langara College. She is one of five McMath alumni  currently on the roster of college and university teams in Canada. Martha Melaku is at Capilano, Bobbi-Jo Colburn at Calgary, Jessica Zawada at Fraser Valley and Jessica Jones at SFU.

Coming off their sixth consecutive Richmond league championship, in which McMath was also runner-up for the Lower Mainland Crehan Cup and qualified for the provincials for the fourth time in five seasons, co-coach Chris Kennedy believes the Wildcats are set to have one of their best seasons in school history. 

“I am excited for this year,” Kennedy says.

But, he notes, the team has a heavy slate of games in the early going in which they’ll face top teams from all tiers before Christmas. Five players were also still involved in fall school sports provincials earlier this week. 

A second Kennedy—Chris’ daughter Liz, who was the Richmond league MVP last season—becomes the first player in McMath’s history to play all five years at the senior level. Liz and Caitlin Bradley-Tse are the only Grade 12s on the roster, with Bradley-Tse destined to be a key leader on defence and in transition.

The 10-player roster, which returns eight players, will also feature four Grade 11s including starter Kate Carkner, hot-shooting Abby Bodden, top all-around athlete Hope Chan (who missed the entire year last season with a knee injury) and Amani Mahamoor, who may be the most improved player on the roster. The four underage players are Grade 10 Kee Howlweg, who was a provincial all-star on the school’s Grade 9 championship team last season, and a trio of Grade 9s—Marina Radocaj, Caitlin Kippan and Quincy Hinds. Radocaj, a league first-team all-star last year as a Grade 8, is on the radar with Canada Basketball. Kippan was a key player as a Grade 8 last year for the senior team in their playoff run, and Hinds has moved into the school from Hugh Boyd where she split her time last year between the Grade 9 and senior teams.

The McMath coaching staff led by co-head coaches Chris Kennedy and Anne Gillrie-Carre, will also feature Jamie Kippan this year, with Zoran Radocaj providing further support. One of the province’s most experienced coaching staffs, Gillrie-Carre is a two-time provincial champion (1985 and 1993) and is in her 44th year. Kennedy is in his 33rd year of coaching, while Kippan was a long-time Richmond High coach.

The Richmond league will sport a new look this season, with McMath and Steveston-London Sharks the only Tier 1 teams. The remaining teams are playing Tier 2. The tiers will combine for playoffs. A key league game is slated for Wednesday, Jan. 29 when McMath is set to host Steveston-London, which is also a top provincial contender. Kennedy suggests this could be the first time since 1999 that Richmond qualifies more than one team for the B.C. senior girls’ finals.

Structural change doesn’t stop at the Richmond border. The old Lower Mainland (Crehan Cup) championships are being replaced by a new South Fraser Zone. At the AAA level, it means McMath and Steveston-London will be joined by fellow Richmond schools Burnett, McRoberts and Richmond as well as 12 schools from Delta and Surrey in the new 17-team zone. It’s likely the zone will receive at least two berth to the provincials. The zone championships will be held in Richmond Feb. 12 to 15.

The season gets going Monday with the tip off of the Big Ticket presented by Onni. The tournament will feature teams at the junior and senior girls’ levels as well as the junior and senior boys’ levels. It wraps up with the final four Nov. 28 and 29 at Abbotsford Secondary.

Prior to then, preliminary games will be held throughout the Lower Mainland. McMath Secondary is one of the hosts of the senior girls’ division. The Wildcats will tip off their 2019-20 schedule against the York House Tigers at 3:10 p.m. Monday (Nov. 25). Steveston-London is also in the pool, and will open against the Brookswood Bobcats at 6:30 p.m.

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