Abbotsford – One of the biggest weeks of the University of the Fraser Valley athletic department’s calendar is upcoming, highlighted by the wrestling and basketball teams opening their post-season schedules.
MBB: Cascades tangle with T-Wolves for playoff survival
Thursday, Feb. 7: No. 6 seed UFV Cascades (13-7) vs. No. 11 seed UNBC Timberwolves (9-11), 7 p.m.
Envision Financial Athletic Centre, South Gym
The Cascades men’s hoopsters wrapped up a strong regular season with a weekend sweep of the Trinity Western Spartans, and in the process, earned the right to host a first-round playoff game.
Their opponent for Thursday’s single-game elimination clash will be familiar one. The UNBC Timberwolves faced the Cascades in Abbotsford around midseason, with UFV sweeping the series by scores of 81-62 on Nov. 23 and 85-79 on Nov. 24.
The hallmark of those victories for head coach Adam Friesen’s squad was their dominance on the boards. They out-rebounded the T-Wolves 54-33 the first night and 52-34 in the second, for a colossal +39 margin over the two games.
“Rebounding has been something we’ve been harping on all year against all opponents,” Friesen noted, “so we’ll be looking to take care of our defensive glass again this weekend.”
While the Cascades got the better of the T-Wolves in the previous match-up, Friesen noted they’re a dangerous playoff opponent. Four of UNBC’s starters – Jovan Leamy, James Agyeman, Vaggelis Loukas and Austin Chandler – are in their fifth year, and the T-Wolves have a track record of success in this do-or-die first round. They went on the road last season and upset the Winnipeg Wesmen 71-68.
“They’re a senior-laden team whose core has played together for multiple years, and we need to understand how much fight they’re going to have,” Friesen said. “It’s always tough in a scenario where you’ve won the first two (during the regular season), to beat a team the third time. So even though we’ve got home court, we have to understand they’re the more playoff-experienced team, and they’ve got motivation coming off the two losses to us earlier.”
Players to watch: The Cascades will look to fourth-year point guard Parm Bains to ignite the team offensively on Thursday as he has all season. Despite coming off the bench for 15 of UFV’s 20 conference games, the 5’10” guard led the team in scoring (16.1 points per game) and three-point shooting (38.0 per cent on 8.2 attempts per game) and has built a strong case for Canada West all-star recognition. His ability to stretch defenses with his shot and break them down by slashing into the paint are crucial for the Cascades. The T-Wolves counter with a dynamic guard of their own in Jovan Leamy. The senior from Toronto finished ninth in conference scoring (18.1 points per game), and made his presence felt at the defensive end by finishing first in total steals (61) and fifth in blocks (25).
WBB: Playoff match-up at UVic is déjà vu for Cascades
Friday, Feb. 8: No. 10 seed UFV Cascades (10-10) at No. 7 seed Victoria Vikes (12-8), 7 p.m.
Facing the Victoria Vikes on the road in the playoffs in nothing new for the Cascades – they also played at UVic to open the 2018 Canada West post-season. In fact, the Vikes have been UFV’s most common opponent over the course of the past 12 months. In addition to the playoff game, they clashed in a neutral-site preseason game on Oct. 20, then played a two-game regular-season set in Victoria, Jan. 11-12.
The first three of those match-ups did not go the Cascades’ way; most notably, they lost the playoff game in decisive fashion, 91-62. But head coach Al Tuchscherer’s squad built momentum in the most recent clash, defeating the Vikes 73-71 in a high-character performance.
“Having bounced back on the Saturday night and had a bit of success, it puts us in a better mindset,” Tuchscherer noted. “But at the same time, we know our recent history with UVic hasn’t been fantastic. We’ve struggled against their backcourt, and struggled to stop their potent offence.
“At playoff time, you need to be really locked into your game plan. You need to be on point in your execution and things you’re trying to take away from teams. There’s not a Saturday night where you can make adjustments and come back the next day. So we’ve got to be ready right from the jump ball to play 40 minutes and be adaptable.”
The Vikes’ offence is indeed potent – they rank 12th in the nation in points per possession (via usportshoops.ca), with the fourth-best three-point percentage (34.6 per cent).
Players to watch: Cascades fourth-year forward Taylor Claggett has had an all-star calibre season, and she’ll be relied upon to carry a heavy offensive load on Friday. The Mennonite Educational Institute grad finished fifth in the Canada West scoring race, averaging 18.4 points per game, and she was 11th in rebounding (8.4). Among Claggett’s particular set of skills is an uncanny ability to get to the free throw line. Her 131 made free throws in 2018-19 are tied for the third-most in a season in Canada West history, and earlier in the campaign, she set single-game conference records for free throws made (20) and attempted (24). Much of the Cascades’ defensive game plan will be geared to stopping UVic’s Amira Giannattasio. The fifth-year guard finished second in Canada West scoring (20.1 points), and ascended to the No. 3 spot on the Vikes’ all-time scoring list with 1,539 career points. She is highly dangerous from beyond the arc, hitting 37.1 per cent from the land beyond.
WRES: Cascades chase conference medals at home
Friday, Feb. 8: Canada West Wrestling Championships, Round 1 – UFV vs. Calgary, Alberta vs. Sask, women 7 p.m., men 8 p.m.
Saturday, Feb. 9: Canada West Wrestling Championships, Round 2 – UFV vs. Sask, Alberta vs. Calgary, women 11 a.m., men 12 p.m. / Round 3 – UFV vs. Alberta, Sask vs. Calgary, women 2 p.m., men 3 p.m.
Envision Financial Athletic Centre, South Gym
For the first time in the five-year history of the program, the Cascades wrestlers will enjoy home-gym advantage for the Canada West championships. In fact, it’s the first time in 13 years that the event has been held in B.C. – the last time was in 2006 when the SFU Clan hosted.
The event runs Friday and Saturday in the EFAC South Gym, and the dual-meet format is very fan-friendly. In each of the three rounds of competition, the four programs (UFV, Alberta, Calgary and Saskatchewan) will be paired off for a series of head-to-head matches, with two mats running simultaneously.
“It’s an exciting opportunity for UFV to be highlighted, as well as the sport of wrestling,” Cascades interim head coach Stacie Anaka enthused. “The Canada West championships haven’t been in B.C. in over a decade, and it’s great to bring the event back here. The dual-meet format makes it exciting for the fans to watch – it’s a more team-oriented competition.”
The Cascades are taking their deepest roster ever into the CW championships – they have 10 of 11 men’s weight classes covered, along with three of eight on the women’s side. Both UFV teams are nationally ranked – the men are No. 4 in the U SPORTS poll, while the women are No. 7.
“It’s exciting to host a championship, and it’s a different environment when you’re sleeping in your own bed,” noted UFV heavyweight Brad Hildenbrandt. “Obviously it gives us an advantage, because it’s the gym we train in normally. It gives us a sense of familiarity that nobody else has.
“This is the first time we’ve ever had a team this large, so it gives us a chance to win it, which would be exciting to do at home for the first time.”
The Alberta Golden Bears and Pandas are the reigning team champions on both the men’s and women’s sides, while the Calgary Dinos are looking to build momentum ahead of hosting the 2019 U SPORTS Wrestling Championships later this month. The Saskatchewan Huskies also come in with confidence, having won the men’s and women’s aggregate titles at the Cascades Classic at UFV two weeks ago.
Wrestlers to watch: The Cascades will be led by their two defending Canada West gold medalists: Two-time champ Brad Hildenbrandt (men’s 120 kg), and reigning Canada West female rookie of the year Ana Godinez Gonzalez (63 kg). Both will be relied upon not only for their performances on the mat, but for leadership within the squad. As for the visiting teams, Alberta is led by seniors Krystin Paquette (women’s 59 kg), a three-time conference gold medalist, and two-time champ Markus Peterson, the 2017 CW male wrestler of the year. The Dinos boast their own former CW male wrestler of the year in fourth-year Callum McNeice, while the Huskies have a reigning U SPORTS champ on their roster in Alex Schell (women’s 48 kg).
– with files from Brian Swane / Canada West
WVB: Cascades look to climb standings vs. Royals
Thursday, Feb. 7: No. 10 UFV Cascades (12-8, 4th in PACWEST) vs. No. 3 Douglas Royals (14-6, 2nd in PACWEST), 6 p.m., Envision Financial Athletic Centre North Gym
Friday, Feb. 8: Cascades at Royals, 6 p.m., New Westminster B.C.
Last Saturday’s loss at Capilano was a costly one for the Cascades, as it knocked them off the pace in the race for third place in the PACWEST. They now trail the Camosun Chargers (13-7) by one game in the loss column. The good news is, they own the head-to-head tiebreaker with Camosun, but they’ll need to make up ground over the last four games of the regular season.
The best way for the UFV squad to do that would be to pick up a win (or two) in their home-and-home set this weekend vs. the reigning PACWEST champion Douglas Royals. The Royals sit second in the PACWEST currently, but the Cascades have had some success against them this season. They earned a four-set win over Douglas at home on Nov. 2, and came within a whisker of completing the sweep the next night, dropping a five-set decision in New Westminster.
“That weekend, we were strong offensively, and that’s been an area that’s been consistent for us,” UFV head coach Mike Gilray said, reflecting on that November weekend vs. the Royals. “We need to limit our errors and clean up our side of our court to continue our offence. We need to keep that balanced attack this weekend against Douglas.”
Errors at the service line and on the attack were the impetus behind last Saturday’s upset defeat at Cap, and Gilray said it’s important his team learns from the loss.
“We still scored a lot of points in that game, but we have to limit our errors,” he said. “We’ve got to figure out how to be playing better volleyball this weekend and heading into playoffs as well.”
Players to watch: The Cascades were missing third-year middle Hanna Hieltjes due to injury last weekend, but she’s expected back in the lineup vs. Douglas. She’s among the most effective attackers at her position in the PACWEST, ranking 25th overall in kills (1.15/set) while providing a strong defensive presence at the net. The Royals are led by reigning PACWEST player of the year Vania Oliveira. The Brazilian outside hitter ranks third in the league in total offence (3.38 points/set) and fourth in kills (2.68/set).
MVB: Cascades aim to dethrone first-place Royals
Thursday, Feb. 7: UFV Cascades (1-19, T-6th in PACWEST) vs. No. 4 Douglas Royals (17-3, 1st in PACWEST), 8 p.m., Envision Financial Athletic Centre North Gym
Friday, Feb. 8: Cascades at Royals, 8 p.m., New Westminster B.C.
The Cascades volleyball men still find themselves locked in a battle of attrition with the Columbia Bible College Bearcats, tied for the sixth and final PACWEST playoff spot with two huge head-to-head games looming on the final weekend of the regular season.
Thus, it would be a significant boost to the UFV squad’s post-season hopes to bank a win before then and give themselves some margin for error. But to do that, they’ll have to engineer a momentous upset against a Douglas Royals squad that sits first in the league and is ranked No. 4 in the nation.
“It’s a massive test for us, and we’re excited for it,” Cascades head coach Kyle Donen said. “It’s another opportunity where we’re the underdog. We’re relishing that role, we just haven’t gotten into the win column recently despite some close calls. I’m looking forward to putting our best foot forward against the team that’s the best in the league right now. I think we’re better than our record shows, and we’ve taken big steps forward this semester. I’m excited to see what we bring to the table this weekend.”
Players to watch: Cascades third-year right side Graeme Hughes is coming off an outstanding performance last Saturday vs. Capilano – he racked up a season-high 15 offensive points in just three sets, tallying 11 kills and four blocks along with six digs. For the season, he’s averaging 1.31 kills per set. On the other side of the net, Douglas outside hitter Reid Marriott will merit much of the Cascades’ defensive attention. Last season’s PACWEST rookie of the year currently ranks fourth in the conference in both total offence (3.86 points/set) and kills (3.32/set).