The Surrey-Holy Cross Crusaders call themselves a family. After all they've been through, they're much closer than that.
The Crusaders won the B.C. high school AA girls basketball championship on Saturday, defeating the Vernon Panthers 69-37 at the Tournament Capital Centre. It is Holy Cross's first AA championship since 2001.
The Crusaders have been playing with heavy hearts since the death of Tessa Beauchamp, a former player who passed away at the age of 18 on Jan. 27, 2012. Beauchamp had been fighting cancer when she competed at provincials in 2010 and 2011. She was a tournament all-star in 2011 for helping Holy Cross finish third in her senior year.
Reminders of Tessa were everywhere - from the purple shirt that her father, Steve, the Crusaders' head coach, wore during the final (purple was Tessa's favourite colour), to a tribute page in the program and the I (heart) TB shirts that dotted the crowd. After the game, Rachel Beauchamp, Tessa's younger sister, was named a tournament all-star.
"I've got a friend that's with me right now and she's been with us all season," Steve Beauchamp said. "The girls know it, and there's not a day that goes by where Tessa isn't with us, so this is pretty special."
When the clock ran down in Saturday's final - with little drama, as the game was all but over after the first half - there wasn't a raucous celebration for the Crusaders. There were a lot of hugs, a lot of smiles and a few tears.
"We've gone through so much together and worked so hard to get here," said forward Michelle Bos, who was named tournament MVP. "We're such a close team - we're probably one of the closest teams here. We're great friends on and off the court."
The championship wasn't as much a challenge for the Crusaders as a coronation.
Holy Cross was ranked No. 1 all season, and came into provincials as the tournament favourite. It lived up to that label, winning its four games by a combined score of 319-138.
That the Crusaders scored nearly 80 points a game was impressive - if not a little deceiving, considering a 116-24 tournament-opening victory over the Trail-J.L. Crowe Hawks - their defence was impenetrable.
In each of Holy Cross's games, the Crusaders allowed 40 or fewer points.
"We've relied on our defence all season," Beauchamp said. "Sometimes we can struggle offensively, but we can always rely on our defence."
Vernon had trouble with Holy Cross's press right off the bat, but managed to escape the first quarter down only 21-14. The Crusaders got even tighter in the second quarter, limiting the Panthers to a measly two points, and cruised on home.
"The press caused some early turnovers and when we did get in the half-court, it was with 15, 16 seconds left on the shot clock," said Panthers head coach Bobby MItchell. "We were out of sorts and forcing tough shots over 6-foot-1, 6-foot-2 girls. We didn't get a lot of second chances either."
Mitchell, whose Panthers have been a top-eight team at this tournament in each of the last eight years, must be shaking his head at his luck. Vernon finally played its way into a provincial final, and ran into a team that couldn't be stopped.
"They're so big, they're polished," said Mitchell, whose team picked up its first AA silver medal. "We felt like we could match their size, but they're so polished and do a lot of good things. Our girls competed, and we're proud of where we're at."
Vernon got 11 points and nine rebounds from tournament all-star Karley Fugel, but Holy Cross did a fantastic job of limiting fellow all-star Quinsy Leier to two points - both on free throws.
Holy Cross spread the scoring around, with Bos getting 16 points and 14 rebounds, and Rachel Beauchamp scoring 14 points. All-stars Amy Sprangers, with 12 points, and Nicole Vander Helm, with 10, also hit double-digits, with Samantha Beauchamp - who isn't related to the rest of the Crusaders' Beauchamps - scoring eight points.
"They're great kids. They love the game and they're a great team together," Steve Beauchamp said. "They're very unselfish and that shows out there on the court - we can have four or five different girls in double-figures.
"It's really about team for us."