Suffice it to say the Hunting Hills Lightning have come a long way since the start of the senior high girls basketball season.
The Lightning advanced to the zone 4A final versus the Lindsay Thurber Raiders with a 66-43 victory over the visiting Notre Dame Cougars Thursday, roughly three months after they were taken to the woodshed by their next-door neighbours in an early-season Central Alberta High School Basketball League contest.
“We saw them (Cougars) twice this year before today. In the first one they kicked our butts and in the second one we won by right around the same margin as we beat them tonight,” said Lightning head coach Jill de Jonge.
“We tried some different defences out today. My girls also shot well, but they could have rebounded better.”
The Lightning, a relatively young squad that should be even better next year, were minus the services of starter Drew McKinlay — out with a concussion — but never missed a beat during Thursday’s zone semifinal.
“We had some girls fill in for her and we also had some fantastic play from the JV players we called up,” said de Jonge. “Everyone did what they were supposed to do.”
The Lightning jumped out to a 21-4 lead after one quarter and never looked back. Hunting Hills led 34-16 at the half and 46-31 after three quarters, then added 20 points in the final frame.
Nicole Fisher and Gabbyy Spenst paced the winners with 16 points apiece, while Kaylee Lukawiecki — with a pair of threes — and Madi Nimmo each scored eight and Kelsey Kolesnik added seven.
Cierra Jean Stephens led the visitors with 12 points. Autumn Letkeman netted nine, Gemma Davis scored eight and Kirsten Pinkney contributed six.
The best-of-three zone final opens Tuesday at 6 p.m. at Lindsay Thurber, which drew a first-round bye after posting the superior regular-season record among the three Red Deer schools.
De Jonge admitted the Lightning will have to find a way to stymie the Raiders’ aggressive style.
“They’re a fast break team so we’ll have to use a strong transition defence,” said the Hunting Hills coach, who are 0-3 versus their city rivals in recent weeks.
“We’ve been all over the place against them this season,” said de Jonge.
“In our own tournament we lost to them by eight, then by about 50 in a league game and 14 in a (four-team) tournament (at Red Deer College) last weekend.
“We were right there with them in the last game until the fourth quarter. We were only down by one in the third quarter. It’s going to be a good series if my girls play their game.”
The Lightning players, said de Jonge, should feel somewhat confident that they can pull off what would be considered an upset.
“I sure as heck hope so. That’s what we’re trying to drive home — you have to believe,” she said.
The second game of the series will be played Thursday. A third contest, if necessary, will go 24 hours later.