By Erik Boal
For The Signal
BURBANK — The opportunity to play for, and finally win, a CIF-Southern Section title is still two months away for the Canyon girls basketball team.
But the past two weeks have demonstrated the Cowboys are capable of getting over the hump when it comes to competing in championship games.
Canyon won its second straight tournament title Saturday, defeating Los Alamitos, 53-33, in the final of the ninth annual West Coast Holiday Festival at Burroughs High.
The Cowboys (12-2) set the record for the fewest points allowed in a championship game in tournament history, eclipsing the mark they previously held in a 49-39 loss to Alemany in 2011 in their only previous appearance in the final.
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“They’ve shown when it comes to these big games, they can finally close them out,” said Canyon coach Jessica Haayer, whose team has won 12 games in a season before Jan. 1 for the first time since 2012.
“In their four years, they’ve done a lot of finishing second. They get to the big show (in the CIF-Southern Section finals) or they get to a tournament championship and they finish second. They’re sick of it and I’m sick of it. It’s good to see that after three years, they’re finally starting to get over the hump.”
Canyon, which won its ninth in a row, captured the Dan Wiley Division title Dec. 22 at the Nike Tournament of Champions in Phoenix with a 53-40 victory over Corona Centennial.
The victory snapped a streak of 14 consecutive tournaments Canyon had entered without winning a championship since capturing the 2012 Buena-Kiwanis title.
The Cowboys ended another drought Saturday, relying on 20 points and 16 rebounds from Boise State signee Rachel Bowers to win a title in the Burroughs gym after losing five straight finals in the past decade, either in the Magnolia Park Optimist Club tournament — where Canyon placed fourth this season — or the West Coast Holiday Festival.
“Arizona was a big thing for us to win because that really fueled us forward to get this championship here,” Bowers said. “To finally win here for the first time in our last game in this gym, it’s kind of bittersweet. But winning these two tournaments sets a huge precedent for us going into league.”
Talia Taufaasau added 12 points and seven assists for Canyon, which advanced to multiple tournament finals for the first time since winning once in three championship appearances in 2011, which included a pair of title-game losses in the Burroughs gym.
“We’ve been coming here for four years and never won ‘the game’ so to finally come out on top in our last tournament at Burroughs means a lot,” Taufaasau said.
“When we play at Burroughs, we see a lot of the same teams, but winning in Arizona was a really big confidence builder for us because we played a lot of quality, championship-caliber teams from out of state and it showed us that we were capable of playing at a higher level.”
Los Alamitos (10-4), making its first appearance in the West Coast Holiday Festival final, cut an early 11-point deficit to 26-20 at halftime. But Canyon limited the Griffins to four second-half field goals, including one in the third quarter, to build the lead to as many as 23 points.
Gabby Sanchez added seven points and nine rebounds, with Brooke Mitchell contributing six points for Canyon, which will be looking to win 10 consecutive games for the first time since 2014 when it plays a nonleague contest at 6 p.m. Tuesday at Highland.
“When they play like that, it’s beautiful to watch,” Haayer said. “They’re so selfless and they share the ball and they don’t care who gets the credit and they don’t care who scores, they just want to win.”