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Cougars climb onto B.C. list

The College Heights Cougars are no longer an unknown quantity on the B.C. high school girls basketball scene. Prior to a tournament in Kelowna last weekend, the Cougars weren't ranked as one of the top 10 teams in the provincial double-A division.
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The College Heights Cougars senior girls basketball team is shown earlier in the season. Clockwise from back row left, the team is formed by assistant coach Chantal Nicholson, Ariana Bonafine (no longer on roster), Lila Mansour, Alysha Madsen, Anika Rai, Isabel Fuller, Jasmine Cutler, head coach Mandy Botham, Laura Olson, Courtney Hauck, Brooklyn Nicholson, Laura Appleby, Jessica Nycholat and Sophie Jensen.

The College Heights Cougars are no longer an unknown quantity on the B.C. high school girls basketball scene.

Prior to a tournament in Kelowna last weekend, the Cougars weren't ranked as one of the top 10 teams in the provincial double-A division. But, after they won all four of their games - including one against the seventh-seeded Okanagan Mission Huskies - they jumped all the way to fifth on the B.C. list.

"I was pleasantly surprised to see us be a No. 5 seed, considering we were unranked going in," said College Heights coach Mandy Botham. "But as far as confidence in my team and our chemistry and our work ethic, I definitely feel it's deserved."

The Cougars were playing at an event co-hosted by Okanagan Mission and Immaculata. In their first game - with their starters pretty much glued to the bench - they thumped Summerland 105-15. Next came the win against the Huskies, a 64-54 decision in front of the entire Okanagan Mission student body.

"I think that for the first time this season everything just really came together," Botham said of the victory.

"The way we moved the ball offensively was exceptional. And we're a pretty undersized team but my posts really stepped up and took a lot of physical contact and got some key rebounds for us that really made a difference. Probably the biggest thing I'm proud of is just that the girls were able to maintain their composure and we controlled the pace of that game from start to finish."

The two College Heights post players who had huge impacts on the game were Alysha Madsen and Jasmine Cutler. The Grade 10 Madsen stands six-foot-one but the Grade 11 Cutler is "five-eight on a good day," Botham said with a chuckle.

"We're really small - we're just scrappy," she added.

Meanwhile, College Heights guard/forward Jessica Nycholat and point guard Brooklyn Nicholson were the steadying influences, especially when the game got tight in the late stages. With about four minutes left to play, the Huskies pulled into a two-point deficit but the two veterans made sure the Cougars didn't panic. At the final buzzer, the Grade 11 Nycholat had 31 points and the Grade 12 Nicholson had 25.

In their other games, the Cougars beat Westsyde of Kamloops 63-46 and NorKam of Kamloops 65-44.

Another key member of the Cougars is Isabel Fuller, already in her second year as a starter even though she's only in Grade 10. Fuller, who can play both point guard and shooting guard, is an exceptional defender and did her job well in Kelowna.

"She had some key defensive match-ups in our big wins," Botham said. "She was responsible for guarding provincial-team players in three out of our four games so she really shut down their big scorers and she also hit some really key baskets."

The College Heights roster is rounded out by Anika Rai, Courtney Hauck, Laura Appleby, Laura Olson, Sophie Jensen and Lila Mansour.

With their success in Kelowna, the Cougars leaped past the rival Duchess Park Condors in the B.C. double-A rankings. The Condors, last year's provincial champion, currently sit at No. 7.

As it stands right now, the north central zone championship tournament, Feb. 16-18 at Kelly Road, will offer just one berth in provincials. A wildcard spot, however, may be awarded.

Provincials are March 1-4 in Langley.

In the Prince George city league, the Cougars and Condors will tip off on Tuesday at 6:15 p.m. at College Heights.