Kamloops' hopes at the provincial AA basketball championships will be carried by a team short on players and another short on experience.
But these teams may have heart and hustle on their side.
The 32-team provincial championships are scheduled to start Wednesday and end March 10 at the Tournament Capital Centre and TRU Gym. Sixteen of the teams will play in the girls' draw, with the other half filling the boys' bracket.
There are only two Kamloops teams in the tournament - the Sa-Hali Sabres girls and boys are carrying the Kamloops flag.
Sa-Hali's girls are ranked No. 9 going into the tournament, pretty good considering their numbers. The Sabres only had eight healthy players for most of the season, but picked up a pair of junior centres - Jaida Wallat and Haley Cochran - for this tournament.
"Having 10 is a lot better than eight, and (the juniors) add a lot of size," said Sabres head coach Jody Vosper, whose team is making its fifth straight appearance at provincials, the last three of which resulted in fifth-place finishes.
"They add a lot to what we have. We have a little breathing room now, when it comes to foul trouble."
For the Sabres boys, numbers aren't an issue, but experience is.
Sa-Hali, which finished fifth at last year's tournament, has a full roster of eager players, only three of whom are seniors.
The No. 12 Sabres will take on No. 5 Mills Bay-Brentwood College in their first game Wednesday, 7:45 p.m., at the TCC.
Brentwood finished third at provincials last year, knocking off the Sabres 86-72 en route to the semifinals.
"We have a totally different team this year, and so do they," said Sabres head coach Paul Patterson. "This isn't like college basketball or the NBA - these are two different teams now."
Although most of the Sabres players haven't had a lot of experience on the floor at provincials, some of them were along for the ride last year.
"This year's Grade 11s sat on our bench last year - they didn't play, but we're hoping it helped and this won't be brand new to them," Patterson said. "And a lot of them, like Russell Dolson and Noah Marchand, they've seen their big brothers play, and they've been at this tournament since Grade 6 or 7.
"They know what to expect in terms of atmosphere and in terms of the court itself."
Four of the Sa-Hali girls have senior provincials experience heading into its opener against the Victoria-St. Michael's Blue Jags on Wednesday, 5 p.m., at TRU Gym.
Emily Hilton, a senior forward, has been here before, so knows how to handle the pressure and nerves that come from playing on the big stage.
"I think it's more like motivation," she said. "It's better to have a big crowd and it's nice playing at home - you know the gym and you know the people around, they're cheering for you."
The Sabres girls are quite confident going into the tournament. Sa-Hali played with Wallat and Cochran at a tournament in Vancouver earlier this season, and picked up a big victory over the Victoria-Claremont Spartans, who are ranked No. 6 heading into this weekend's AAA girls championship in Vancouver.
The Sabres also lost to the Jags at the same tournament.
"We have all the pieces (to be) a successful team," Vosper said. "Pretty much everybody on our team has had games where they get 10-20 points - that's nice to have.
"When teams play us, they're going to key on (forward) Nicole (Karstein), but we have some options."
Sa-Hali's boys went into last year's tournament as the No. 1 seed, so were feeling a little more pressure than now.
But there still is a fair amount of pressure on 15-, 16- and 17-year-old boys to play their best in front of friends and family in a major venue in their hometown.
All they can do, said Sabres senior forward Daylin Epp, is work hard - and that has been a trademark of this Sabres squad.
"If there's one thing, it's definitely our work ethic," Epp said. "All year, we've been a hard-working team, and that's what teams know us for."
The girls final is scheduled for March 10, 7:30 p.m., with the boys final to be played at 5:45 p.m. Both are at the TCC.
© Kamloops Daily News