Kia Nurse, who helped the Canadian senior women’s basketball team qualify for the world championships at the FIBA Americas tournament in Mexico last month, said goodbye to Hamilton high school basketball fans on Thursday night (Nov. 7) at McMaster’s Burridge Gym.
The star guard for St. Thomas More tossed in 31 points to lead the Knights to a 52-44 victory over the first-place St. Mary Crusaders at the 2013 Hamilton-Wentworth Catholic Athletic Association senior girls’ basketball championship game.
More advances to play a Quad A representative from Halton for the Golden Horseshoe Athletic Conference title next week in Halton. And with a win there, the Knights would get a crack at capturing a third straight Ontario Federation of School Athletic Associations Quad A championship in Windsor.
As for Nurse, she says she’ll be deciding soon as to which NCAA Division I school in the U.S. she’ll commit to attend on a scholarship. Apparently, that list of candidates has been whittled down to a top five.
“It means a lot,” Nurse said of regaining city Catholic league bragging rights from St. Mary. “It’s my final year. You want to come out here and make a statement. Us and Mary’s have been toe-to-toe for my entire career.
“As a team, we were really fired up. My teammates did everything to help me out. And I tried to help them. Together, we did a really good job.”
According to Nurse – the youngest player on the national senior women’s roster – winning a HWCAA championship and qualifying for worlds with Team Canada are both great feelings in their own way.
“To do this with my friends and people I’ve been through this journey with my last four years is an unbelievable experience,” she said.
In four earlier meetings between the Knights and Crusaders this season, the Crusaders had won three. In addition, St. Mary took the 2012 league title in double overtime over More. Either St. Thomas or St. Mary has been the Joe DiTrapani Memorial Trophy winner as league champion every year since 1987 when the St. Jean de Brebeuf Braves took top honours.
A basket from a short jump shot in the lane by Christina Buttenham cut the Knights lead to three points (47-44) with one minute, 45 seconds left. However, Nurse stopped the bleeding right there. After sinking one of two free throws, she made a steal and sped down the court for a layup bucket. She then grabbed a couple of key defensive rebounds before connecting on two more shots from the charity stripe.
Hailey Brown was the other top scorer for More. The Grade 9 sensation tossed in 10 points, while Abbey Clark and Erin Burns added five and four points, respectively.
For the Crusaders, University of Iowa-bound Buttenham paced the attack with 19 points. Mackenzie Trpcic chipped in with seven, while Hilary Hanaka and Halle Bovell netted six apiece.
“Kia was outstanding, but you expect her to be outstanding,” said Crusaders’ coach Nate McKibbon. “I’ve seen that kid do too many special things to be surprised by an effort like that (McKibbon coached her last summer’s Transway championship JUEL squad). Their whole team played exceptionally well. They executed what they were looking for.”
McKibbon said More won the physical battle against his team.
“They just got on the boards,” the Crusaders coach said of the Knights. “On any of their misses they’re getting two and three shots. They capitalized on their opportunities. We didn’t finish particularly well. It stings right now, but it’s a pleasure to be a part of something like this. I wish people could recognize what kind of calibre of play this is. It’s a level I’m not sure Hamilton has seen before. You really shouldn’t take it for granted to have that much outstanding talent on the floor at one time.”
The Crusaders captured the OFSAA Triple A crown in 2011 and ’12 (plus Quad A in 2010). If they can win Tuesday against Loyola in Oakville and then later in the week against a Peel region representative, the Crusaders get another shot at provincial Triple A glory in London.
The St. Mary lineup features three players who will be attending U.S. schools on basketball scholarships next season. In addition to Buttenham, Hilary Hanaka is heading to the University of Vermont and Amira Giannattasio has chosen Mount St. Mary’s in Emmitsburg, MD.
Knights coach Blaize DiSabatino said the championship was particularly special for five players who are graduating from More this year.
“The girls executed the game plan very well,” DiSabatino said. “One of our keys tonight was to shut down Amira Giannattasio. She has killed us the last few times we’ve played them. So we tried to limit second chances for them and shut down Amira. We did an exceptional job.”
Nurse said another important factor was that More put together a full game. “We played hard right from the start,” she said. “The last couple of times against them we weren’t there in the first half.”
St. Mary took a 13-12 lead into the second quarter. The Knights grabbed a 28-25 halftime advantage and were ahead 38-37 after three quarters.