Natalie Carkner deserving MVP at tournament honouring her grandfather

Natalie Carkner didn’t have to look far for inspiration.

Playing in the Bob Carkner Memorial Basketball Classic, named in honour of her grandfather who was instrumental in the evolution of the game in Richmond, she was surrounded by a supporting family that included her grandmother Nanette. And at the end of the Riverside Rapids’ bench sat her dad, associate coach Mike Carkner.

It could have been overwhelming for the Rapids’ talented Grade 11 point guard. But instead, she embraced it. The chance to play in last weekend’s tournament, hosted by Steveston-London secondary was a dream come true. Capping it with tournament MVP honours, after leading the province’s No. 2-ranked AAA senior high school girls’ team to a 57-54 win over No. 10 Elgin Park in Saturday’s final, was like icing on the cake.

“I didn’t feel any pressure, but I really wanted to win,” said Natalie Carkner. “This was really special and it was cool I got to play in it. I think I played better in this tournament than I have all year.”

“She had a great tournament,” agreed Mike Carkner, a former Steveston Packer who has fond memories of the tournament, which his dad (Bob) helped to host while he was principal at Steveston secondary.

“Nat was like, ‘This is great, grandpa would love for me to be playing in this tournament.’ And she played outstanding.”

Mike helped to coach his older daughter Sam’s team at Fraser Valley Christian in last year’s Carkner Classic and hoped Natalie would have a chance to play this year. But being a top-10 team the Rapids were expected to play in the annual Centennial Top 10 tournament which was also held last weekend.

Instead, Mike Carkner convinced Rapids’ head coach Paul Langford, who was a good friend of Bob Carkner’s, to pass on the Centennial event.

“I find the Top 10 (tournament) is at a time in our season where the kids are a bit tired, so this was perfect,” said Mike Carkner.

But while everything worked out positively for the Carkner family, and the Rapids, Elgin Park seemed poised to pull off an upset in Saturday’s final.

“Give Elgin Park credit,” said Mike Carkner. “We weren’t concentrating and missed a lot of layups. But they also played hard and were getting in the passing lanes. We played a lot of games in the last couple weeks and were a bit tired. Our shooting has been up and down and when you’re small you’ve got to shoot the ball well.”

At one point in the opening half, Elgin Park led 42-24. But when Riverside put on a full-court press in the second half it significantly limited Elgin Park’s scoring chances and changed the face of the game.

“It was a close game, but I was confident we were going to pull it off,” said Natalie Carkner.

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