For UFV Cascades basketball fans, it’s the most wonderful time of the year.
The Canada West regular season basketball schedule kicked off last week, and tonight (Friday) is the home openers for both the men’s and women’s Cascades teams when the Mount Royal University Cougars come to town.
The men’s team in 2017-18 is all about the youth. With just three players having over three years of experience, this year’s team is the youngest group ever for sixth-year head coach Adam Friesen. He said he looks at the youth as a positive.
“With youth comes energy, and we’d better have a lot of energy, especially off the bench. We’ve got 40 minutes each game to use it,” he said. “We’re going to try to be the aggressors as much as we can during games, and learn from our mistakes quickly. We want to make the game as up-and-down as we can, and get everyone opportunities to get on the floor and to grow.”
That the Cascades are in the midst of a youth movement was already clear when the school year started, with last season’s starting backcourt (Manny Dulay and Vijay Dhillon) having graduated. But that reality has been further underscored by the loss of centre Nav Bains to a season-ending knee injury. Bains had been the lone fifth-year on the roster.
Forwards Mark Johnson, Andrew Morris and Matt Cooley are now the most experienced of the bunch, and will be relied upon for leadership. The rest of the roster, including the entire backcourt, is comprised entirely of first- and second-year players.
Johnson and Morris are both in their fourth years, and both bring versatile offensive skillsets. Cooley will play a key role up front after missing the bulk of last season with a foot injury, and towering 6’10” sophomore Sukhman Sandhu is a potential impact player.
On the perimeter, versatile 6’5″ swingman Daniel Adediran has had an outstanding preseason, and fellow sophomore Riley Braich takes over the starting point guard duties. Redshirt freshmen Sagar Dulay and Jordyn Sekhon and true freshman Kenan Hadzovic will be in the mix for minutes, along with Seattle’s Vick Toor.
The men are coming off a regular season that saw them finish 11-9, but then fall in round one of the playoffs to the Winnipeg Wesmen.
Meanwhile, the UFV women’s basketball team brings back a solid core of veteran contributors as they set their sights on a deep Canada West playoff run.
The Cascades are coming off a 2016-17 campaign which saw them qualify for the Canada West playoffs for the seventh straight season. They defeated the Calgary Dinos in a first-round series at home, and took the eventual champion Saskatchewan Huskies to three games in their best-of-three quarter-final.
The Cascades waved goodbye to Kayli Sartori, a U Sports All-Canadian in 2016 who played her fifth and final year of eligibility last season, but there’s still a lot of talent and experience on the roster as they prepare to embark on 2017-18.
Shayna Litman, Taylor Claggett and Sara Simovic lead the Cascades into the post-Sartori era. Fifth-year forward Litman is the last player remaining from the program’s national bronze medal-winning season of 2013-14. Claggett, a third-year forward, led Canada West in minutes (33.8 per game) and ranked fifth in rebounding (8.3 per game) while averaging 11.8 points. Fifth-year guard Simovic is an offensive presence who posted 9.6 points per game last year.
The Cascades welcome back point guard Kate Head after a one-year hiatus, and sophomores Jessica Zawada, Victoria Jacobse and Amanda Thompson are looking to build on solid rookie performances. First-year forward Katelyn Mallette has shown a knack for rebounding in the preseason.
“I think we have the potential to have a really good year,” said Cascades head coach Al Tuchscherer, who enters his 16th season at the helm. “We have a good blend of veteran players with some younger kids, and the younger kids have played some really key minutes for us the last couple years. The entire group has had an extremely productive training season, and we’re really excited to see what that’s going to look like in Canada West play.”
The teams opened the regular season on the road against the UBC Thunderbirds last weekend, with UBC winning all four games.
The women open at 6 p.m. tonight, with the men tipping off at 8 p.m. The Cougars and Cascades play again tomorrow (Saturday), with the women getting underway at 5 p.m. and the men at 7 p.m.