--PRINCE ALBERT-- Paige Crozon of Humboldt helped Canada’s under-19 basketball team to fifth place at Chile’s world championships, sweeping aside continental champions along the way.
“It was upsetting losing in the quarter-finals but I think we did a fabulous job for Canada and our coach said we set the bar for Canadian women’s teams to aspire to,” said Crozon, the second-youngest member of the national team.
Canada indeed set the benchmark for future women’s teams in Puerto Montt, Chile, decimating bundles of international superpowers, including China (Asian champions), Egypt (African champions), Italy (European champions), and eventual winners, the United States.
It was the first time Canada has won eight games since the under-19 world championships’ inaugural event in 1985. The squad struck down their first eight opponents, but heartbreakingly lost in the quarters to a Spanish team (69-55) who later claimed the silver medal.
“We got down six early and we’ve never been down before so I feel like we played scared and we played safe. We just let them take it to us,” said the shooting forward, who has yet to enter her Grade 12 year. “We learned a lot from that game. It was difficult that we had to lose to learn that lesson but I don’t think any of the girls will make the same mistake again.”
Wearing the Canadian jersey, Crozon said, filled her and her teammates with patriotic pride, most poignantly professed during pre-game anthem ceremonies.
“I believe there is no greater honour,” said 17-year-old Crozon. “You put on that jersey and you feel so proud and happy at the same time.
“When the national anthem played there were girls – tears were just brought to their eyes.”
On the court, Canada played relentless and tenacious defence, something head coach Rich Chambers focused on throughout the tournament. Chambers used Crozon for her quickness and prowess on the boards and said in a previous interview that Crozon was “great to have on the team.”
“The most important thing is that she is such a positive young woman,” said Chambers.
Canada stifled its foes, conceding only 60 points in three of nine games. Even more impressive a stat, when one considers the quality of Canadian opposition.
Crozon said encouragement was boundless from Chilean fans, offering the Canadian team partisan support. Fans often waited patiently at the team bus for a glimpse of our national heroes.
“It was crazy, I felt like a celebrity,” said Crozon.
Each country, Crozon said, had its own style of play, from the quick and nimble Japanese, to the slower, towering stature of European sides. Adjusting to those differing styles was vital to Canada’s success.
As one of the national programs youngest players, she didn’t, as expected, see the floor as much as senior players, but said everyone on the team had a role, and Crozon preformed laudably when called upon.
Picking up a multitude of important rebounds, she said the experience was one most athletes wait a lifetime for.
With minimal time to let the buildup of lactic acid subside, Crozon flew, upon completion of the world tournament, via Toronto to Winnipeg, where she joined Team Saskatchewan for nationals. Crozon arrived late, missing the first two games.
“She added a lot to our team,” said Team Saskatchewan head coach Phoebe De Ciman. “I mean coming back brought that edge to our team, which we wanted.”
Crozon, due to national duty, was unable to practice with the provincial outfit for the month prior to nationals. De Ciman said the team progressed without her, but was elated to have her back in the lineup.
“We kept in touch via text a lot,” said De Ciman, who has been involved in coaching at an elite level for four years. De Ciman said Crozon was exhausted upon arriving in Winnipeg, but “she blended in well.”
“She was a little tired and I managed her minutes,” said De Ciman. “I didn’t throw her into the wolves. “Crozon is one of those special athletes, though, that prepares herself, and knew what we’d expect from her when she came back.”
Crozon, and Team Saskatchewan, performed admirably, but were defeated in the quarterfinal against the first-ranked British Columbia team, whose unit eventually hoisted silver medals.
As for Crozon, she intends on spending some well-deserved time with her family before training unremittingly in preparation for her return to Humboldt Collegiate Institute and her senior year of high school basketball.
You can folllow Gary Pearson on Twitter: @newagejourno