Mariah Charleson and her Hesquiaht Descendants teammates are pretty pumped.
That’s because it’s almost time for them to compete in the All Native Basketball Tournament (ANBT).
The Descendants are one of 16 squads that will participate in the women’s division of the ANBT, the prestigious Indigenous hoops event which has been staged annually in Prince Rupert since 1960.
The 2021 tourney, however, was cancelled because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
And there were plenty of concerns whether this year’s event would be staged. The ANBT is traditionally held in February.
Organizers had originally planned to start the 2022 tournament on Feb. 13. But because of the rising number of COVID cases in the province at the start of the year, officials opted to push back the dates of the event. It will now be staged April 3-9.
“We’re all super, super excited,” Charleson said of the Descendants, a team she founded in 2015 and one that she continues to play for.
The Hesquiaht team will feature 11 players at this year’s tournament.
“Everybody is healthy and we’re super stoked to go,” Charleson said.
The only other Nuu-chah-nulth squad that will compete at this year’s ANBT is the Maaqtusiis Suns from Ahousaht First Nation.
The Suns are one of 14 clubs in the senior men’s category.
The ANBT will also feature intermediate men’s (21 and under) and men’s masters (35 and over) divisions.
There will be 12 entrants in the intermediate grouping and also an even dozen in the master’s category.
As a result, there will be a total of 54 competing clubs in the four divisions.
Some are still questioning whether such a large event should indeed be held considering the pandemic is ongoing.
Charleson said members of the Descendants are keeping close tabs on all health and safety regulations.
“Obviously we are watching the case numbers,” she said. “Obviously we want this tournament to be safe for everyone and those from our community.”
Traditionally, communities bring large contingents to the ANBT to support their local teams. But that won’t necessarily be the case this year, Charleson said.
She said she believes all 11 players on her club will have at least one family member or supporter in attendance. Plus, members of the Descendants will be cheering on the Suns, and vice versa, whenever possible and if their game times don’t conflict.
“It will be a small crew,” Charleson said of the Nuu-chah-nulth representatives. “But we will be mighty.”
The Descendants placed fourth in their division at their inaugural appearance at the ANBT in 2015.
Charleson would love to see her team improve upon that performance this year and earn a Top 3 finish.
The Hesquiaht club will square off against a team from Bella Bella in its tournament opener on April 4, the day after the ANBT’s opening ceremonies.
The ANBT will feature a double-knockout format, meaning squads must lose two games before they are eliminated from further action.
“The goal is to go up there and do as best as we can,” Charleson said. “We have a lot of experienced players and some of our young girls are pretty good.”
The Descendants’ youngest player is Jada Touchie, who is 18. And the team’s oldest player is Bonnie Frank, who is in her 40s.
Other team members are Shauntelle Dick-Charleson, Destiny Hanson, Shania Sabbas, Chantelle Thomas, Heather Campbell, Jaylynn Lucas, Francine Charleson and Shaneal Ignace.
The Descendants are coached by Preston Campbell while Bev Hansen-Michel serves as the club’s manager.
Charleson was pleased with the efforts team members displayed at a practice held this past Saturday, March 19. The majority of the Hesquiaht players were able to show up for that practice.
As in previous years, an obstacle that the Descendants have faced this season is the fact that its players do all not live in the same community.
Any members of the First Nation are eligible to play for the Hesquiaht squad, regardless of where they are currently living.
When they are able to team members get together for practices.
“Everybody is training on their own,” Charleson added.
Unlike previous years, there was no qualifying tournament in the fall for clubs that were interested in taking part in the 2022 ANBT.