The Riverside Rapids won't be around to defend their Telus Classic senior high school girls basketball title Saturday night, which is the least of their concerns in what has been a very trying week.
On Wednesday, hours before their tournament-opening game, the father of star guard Fiona Beales died of multiple myeloma. Barry Beales, 61, was a big supporter of the Port Coquitlam-based Rapids and his loss was devastating.
“He was a part of our team,” coach Paul Langford said softly following Riverside's 53-52 semi-final loss Friday to the Handsworth Royals. “He was at every open gym. He was at all our practices. This all happened in the last few weeks and it's been really, really, really hard.”
Fiona Beales didn't play Wednesday in the Rapids' 56-22 victory over Collingwood but returned to the court Thursday and helped Riverside knock off St. Thomas Aquinas 76-67. She was the Rapids' top performer in their defeat Friday to Handsworth and led all scorers with 19. She said the decision to play was a difficult one but that she did so in her father's memory.
“He was always my biggest supporter,” said Fiona, a Grade 12 student. “He was always at every single game. So, for me, it's hard not to have him here but I know he'd want me to play and play my best. It would have been worse if I didn't play. He's my biggest inspiration and every basket I score is for him.”
According to Fiona, Barry Beales was experiencing some back pain but nobody suspected he was gravely ill.
“It was kind of a crazy three weeks,” she explained. “He was complaining of back pain beforehand and went into the hospital a couple of times and, the third time in emergency, they found out he had a broken vertebrae.
“Then his calcium levels were really high and we weren't really sure why. So he got admitted, they did a couple of scans and found out he had multiple myeloma. He passed away early Wednesday morning.”
Langford expressed his admiration for the Rapid players and the manner in which they rallied around a teammate's personal tragedy.
“We're pretty fragile but our girls have been awesome,” he said. “They've been sticking up for each other and the families have all chipped in. As far as the basketball goes, we were happy to get to the semi-final with the week we've had. I just want this week to end.”
Riverside's loss Friday ended a two-year run as Telus Classic champions. Handsworth and North Shore rival Argyle will battle it out for the 2013 title in Saturday's 5:30 p.m. final at UBC's War Memorial gym. The Pipers, ranked ninth in the pre-season polls, stunned No. 2 Brookswood Bobcats 86-77 in the other semi-final played at Sir Winston Churchill Secondary.
In the boys semi-finals, top-ranked Kitsilano Blue Demons ousted the Kelowna Owls 80-70 while No. 3 White Rock Christian Academy Warriors bounced the Vancouver College Fighting Irish 90-81. The Demons and Warriors will tip-off at 7:15 in Saturday's final.
For the Handsworth girls, it's their second straight trip to the dance. A year ago, they were beaten by Riverside but found, as a finalist, they received the Royal treatment of a bus ride from their school right to the door of War Memorial Gym. It was their rallying cry Friday.
“It's funny,” said Handsworth coach Scott Palmer. “We always do little posters and we put on there 'we want the bus.' That was our goal today. We want the bus because they come and pick you up in a big coach if you're in the final. So the kids love it. The bus pulls up right in front at UBC and they feel like rock stars.”
The Royals were led Friday by their dynamic duo of Elisa Homer and Abby Dixon, who combined for 35 points. They are Palmer's bread and butter and you can throw in the crust, too.
“When they play like that, they're so determined and so smart,” Palmer said. “They couldn't take the ball off Abby Dixon today and Homer, what can you say? She's electric. I mean, she puts up some shots that make me close my eyes but lots of them go in, too. So I was really happy with the two of them.”
“It's really special for us to make the final,” added Homer, a 5-11 Grade 12 student. “This is a huge tournament with awesome teams."
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Riverside Rapids’ Dani Antiginani hangs onto a loose ball on the court vs. Handsworth Royals during Telus Classic semifinals high school girls basketball at Winston Churchhill secondary school in Vancouver on Friday, Dec. 7, 2012.
Photograph by: Arlen Redekop, PNG