Comeback Comets repeat as Hoopla 4A champs

Estevan Elec Morgan Fichter (4) struggles to find a pass, while Melfort Comets Avery South (9) and Alexa Hangs-Copeland (6) defend her during the first half of the Hoopla 4A gold medal game. -- Evan Radford/Daily Herald

Melfort girls use defence, clutch shooting for 4-point gold medal win over Estevan

Through 39 minutes of their gold medal game, the Melfort Comets only hit one three-pointer; with 31 seconds left, Alexa Hangs-Copeland delivered her team its second one.

It was the difference between provincial gold and almost, but not quite champions.

Her shot was the dagger in the Estevan Elecs’ hearts: Melfort topped the south Saskatchewan school 60-56 to repeat as Hoopla 4A girls champions Saturday night in Prince Albert.

“It’s unreal. There were some scary moments, but we worked so hard. I feel so good,” an ecstatic Hangs-Copeland said after her team’s come-from-behind win.

“I don’t feel anything, except I’m numb right now, because I can’t fathom the fact that we won,” exclaimed Melfort senior Rachel Linnell.

There was no shortage of challenges for the Comets, during the game or prior to it.

On Friday night in her team’s semifinal game, grade 10 Melfort player Morgan Dmytrow was knocked out of the tournament with a nasty knee injury after landing awkwardly from a jump she made; on Saturday Dmytrow was on crutches and unable to put any weight on her leg.

Saturday night, the Comets had to contend with a gritty, precise-shooting Elecs team that worked its way through three quarters into a 48-45 lead as it entered the home stretch of the game.

Even before Hangs-Copeland’s three-ball, the Elecs had the Comets on the ropes for most of the final quarter; with 2:16 left in the game, Estevan was up 56-53, thanks in part to a momentum-shifting three-pointer from grade 12 Elec Tatiana Dutka.

But the Comets’ defence kept them in the game, locking down its play and limiting the Elecs from going on any scoring streaks. “That made such a big difference how hard we played on defence,” Hangs-Copeland said.

Estevan Elecs senior Tatiana Dutka (6) stares down Melfort Comets point guard Alexa Hangs-Copeland (6) during the first half of the Hoopla 4A gold medal game Saturday at Prince Albert’s St. Mary High School. — Evan Radford/Daily Herald

It paved the way for Melfort’s comeback.

The grade 11 point guard nailed a two-point field goal to pull her team within a point, which soon led to her heroics in the game’s final minute in Estevan’s zone.

“We got that rebound on the reverse. Then it was like ‘oh my gosh!’ Then I was just wide open, so I shot it, and I wasn’t thinking, and it went in. Then I was just … oh it was unreal,” she said.

That put Melfort up 58-56; a missed two-point shot from Estevan, along with two successful free throws from Hangs-Copeland, completed the Comets’ comeback 60-56 for the defending champs.

“They dug down deep in the last minute and went ahead and won the game,” Melfort head coach Kelly Linnell said of the win.

“Alexa got it in her mind that we weren’t giving up and we weren’t going to lose. She played really well; all of the girls did.”

Linnell’s daughter, Rachel, explained how Dmytrow’s injury was extra motivation for the team.

“I know that was a very low moment. We were kind of all like, ‘players aren’t permanent; you can get injured.’ It was a big hit to us.

“But I think it helped us bond more, because she was so positive about everything … I think it brought us closer,” she said.

This and last years’ golds are the only Hoopla wins in Melfort’s history; prior to 2017, the school had seven silver finishes, going back to 1973, with the most recent silver being in 2004.

“Winning it back to back is pretty special,” the elder Linnell said.

“This doesn’t happen every year. Getting to Hoopla is a big accomplishment. Winning Hoopla two years in a row is huge. There are no guarantees going in.”

Estevan is a testament to that. The last time the school played in a Hoopla final was the last time it medaled: The school won gold in 1980; it finished with silver the year prior.

Dutka was the Elecs leading point-scorer. She had 24 points in the game, which included seven of her team’s 10 three-point field goals.

Hangs-Copeland led the Comets with 19 points in the game; Rachel Linnell scored 13 points and had her team’s other three-pointer.

The Melfort Comets are all smiles after winning the Hoopla 4A championship for the second consecutive year on Saturday at Prince Albert’s St. Mary High School on March 24, 2018. — Evan Radford/Daily Herald