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By David Grossman
Annika Sharma couldn’t have found a better way to write the last chapter in her high school basketball career.
Known for her strong defensive play and controlling opposing players on the hardwood, Sharma came off the bench in the second half and did more than her coach had expected. Try 12 points, including eight in a row late in the game.
Sharma, a 5-foot-6 guard, saved her best for the final quarter flipping to an offensive star and claiming ownership of the points that eventually led to the big prize.
Richview Collegiate Saints capped an undefeated abbreviated season – four league and four playoff victories – with a remarkable 48-37 come-from-behind victory over the East York Collegiate. This wasn’t just any win. It was for bragging rights of the Toronto District School Board’s citywide senior girls’ championship.
In years to come, Sharma may be overlooked as one of Richview’s famous students – a list that includes Cincinnati Reds baseball slugger Joey Votto, Florida Panthers hockey winger Sam Bennett and former Prime Minister Stephen Harper.
But for now, she’s the school star.
It was gold medal Number 3 for Richview, who had defeated Earl Haig in a semifinal. For Sharma, it was something special - her first major title with graduation just weeks away. Later this year, she’s off to prestigious Dartmouth College, a private Ivy League research university in Hanover, N.H.
“This was my last game and it really motivated me,” said Sharma, who could write her own music to the finale as she also plays the alto saxophone in the school orchestra. “We were losing, my parents were at the game, and you just want to get in the game so badly and do your best for your teammates.”
Known for her blocks, steals and rebounding, Sharma changed the script with some dazzling offensive play. There were the points off transition and then connecting on free throw opportunities when East York could only foul her, to slow down the tempo.
East York led 10-7 after the first quarter and went to the halftime break leading 18-16. A tight seesaw battle continued when Richview coach Kurt Dipchand decided it was time to go to his bench. Dipchand hoped his ace defensive player could do some magic.
Nail-biting time in a game played at Toronto Metropolitan University and Sharma was waiting for the call. With the game tied 28-28 heading into the final quarter, it was time for the, well, “Sharma Show”. A four-time academic honors student, the 18-year-old proved she was a whiz at the game of hoops, taking control in a game she’ll remember the rest of her life.
In addition to her points, she had five rebounds and three steals – all in the fourth quarter.
“I had thought about this game, being my last, during a French class in the morning,” said Sharma, who is a duo citizen and has two siblings at universities in the United States. “I’m a happier person when I’m playing, I work harder, and exercise is wonderful for the mind and body.”
Sharma, who plans to study biology in university and is tinkering with a career as an ophthalmologist or medical eye specialist, said she enjoys helping people. She did it on the basketball court, helping her team to their highlight of the year.
Not to be overshadowed was the play of grade 11 star Hailey Franco-DeRyck with a team high 16 points and continuing her pace of a double-double in every game this school year. Tessa Kent added nine points – all on three-point baskets for the winners.
“I didn’t expect what (Annika) did late in the game – she just broke the game wide open,” added Dipchand, who has coached Richview teams to five championships (three senior and two junior) in the past six years. “Just a clutch performance, timely points. She’s always in the right spot and never turns the ball over – and that is what had been happening in the first half.
A multi-sport athlete at Richview, Sharma – who had the third highest academic average last year with a sparkling 98.86 per cent – also spends her time volunteering at a home for children with special needs.
“It’s all about making a difference and helping others,” she said. “You can do that in so many ways.”
David Grossman is a veteran multi award-winning Journalist and Broadcaster with some of Canada’s major media, including the Toronto Star and SPORTSNET 590 THE FAN, and a Public Relations professional for 45+ years in Canadian sports and Government relations.