Like anticipated smoke from the Vatican chimney, the experience of competing in a provincial basketball championship has many possible outcomes, but just one "chosen one."
For the Riverside Rapids senior girls squad, a seventh-place showing may have seemed like a gaping letdown after some heady charges along the way.
A 53-39 loss to Argyle on Saturday in Langley ended a year that had its share of adversity and challenges. Through the injuries, inconsistencies and a death in the family - senior Fiona Beales' father passed away - the team came together and displayed plenty of heart and resiliency that made their coach proud.
"We finished higher than we were ranked but you can't get too excited or too down about it," noted Riverside coach Paul Langford. "We were pretty emotional (Saturday) and we just didn't click."
They stood tied 23-23 at halftime, but Argyle outscored the PoCo club 23-1 in the third quarter to put it away. The Rapids were led by Vanessa Gee and Tessa Needham, who each tallied eight points in a game where the team was just 13for-53 on field goals and one-for-five on free throws.
Third at the Fraser Valleys, the Rapids had lofty expectations all within reason. After a 79-66 victory over Steveston-London in the B.C. opener, Riverside ran aground against eventual B.C. champ South Kamloops, who cruised to an 84-44 decision on Thursday.
"[South Kamloops] played very well and we didn't compete, that's about it. It was unfortunate," said Langford.
But, as they did over and over again, the girls responded and put in a stirring effort to beat Kelowna 66-59, getting 20 points from Beale and 17 by Gee. Leading by four at the half, the Rapids witnessed an aggressive push-back by the Owls, who took a 47-46 advantage into the fourth quarter.
Riverside won it by outscoring the opposition 20-12 over the final eight minutes.
"I was really proud of the kids and how they bounced back," said the coach. "We had a great start and a great finish... [Kelowna] was a top-10 [ranked] team and we beat them after coming off a huge loss of our own."
For the squad's five graduating seniors, the end may have been awash with heartfelt tears, but Langford noted they were amazing contributors who helped guide a young roster through some difficult days en route to the B.C.s.
"These are probably the nicest kids I've coached," he said. "No matter what they choose, if they play and go and study, they'll do really well in life.
"I think our kids put everything in perspective at the end and should be pleased with how they've done this year."
Moving on are Megan Cornish, Desha Puri, Chelsey Sanchez, Beales and Needham.
As for next season, the future continues to be buoyant for Rapids girls basketball, with the junior squad down the hall finishing their provincials in fourth place.
A key returning core, led by Grade 8 guard Shae Sanchez, Gee and forwards Dani Antigiani and Megan Dally, will be expected to apply the lessons learned this year and add to them.
"We weren't that consistent for a lot of different reasons this year," added Langford. "If the kids want to compete at that next level they have to work hard to get stronger and bigger... The future looks bright if they want to step up and take the ball."