Cascades, Spartans gearing up for high-profile basketball clash at AESC

Jasper Moedt says "hate" is too strong a word to describe the emotions involved in the red-hot hoops rivalry between UFV and Trinity Western

Sam Freeman (with ball) and the UFV Cascades are gearing up for what is sure to be a physical battle with the TWU Spartans on Saturday at the Abbotsford Entertainment and Sports Centre.

Sam Freeman (with ball) and the UFV Cascades are gearing up for what is sure to be a physical battle with the TWU Spartans on Saturday at the Abbotsford Entertainment and Sports Centre.

Jasper Moedt says that “hate” is too strong a word to describe the emotions involved in the red-hot basketball rivalry between his University of the Fraser Valley Cascades and the Trinity Western Spartans.

Listening to Moedt talk, though, it’s clear that a healthy amount of dislike has built up between the two local university hoops programs over the years, particularly on the men’s side.

“We love playing Trinity,” admitted Moedt, the Cascades’ 6’7″ centre, looking ahead to Saturday’s doubleheader showcase against TWU at the 7,000-seat Abbotsford Entertainment and Sports Centre on Saturday (women 5 p.m., men 7 p.m.) .

“Every year, the rivalry’s kind of grown bigger. This year, I think it’s our turn to knock them off.”

If those seem like fighting words, they’re hardly out of place in a rivalry that’s become particularly rugged and intense in recent years.

In 2009-10, the Cascades men earned two late-season wins over the Langley-based Spartans to edge them for the Pacific Division’s final playoff spot. Trinity Western returned the favour in 2010-11, eliminating Fraser Valley in a first-round playoff series that went the full three games. The Spartans went on to win silver at nationals.

That barn-burner of a playoff series reached a boiling point late in the third quarter of the decisive Game 3. Cascades power forward Josh Kufske, usually the mild-mannered sort, was ejected after stomping on the head of Spartans agitator Kyle Coston. It was a retaliatory move after Coston, having fallen to the floor battling for a rebound, grabbed Kufske’s ankle and hung on as he tried to run up-court.

Kufske no longer plays for UFV – he retired at the end of last season in order to focus on his young family. But Moedt, his former Yale Secondary teammate, is eager to pick up where Kufske left off in the physicality department . . . within the rules, of course.

“I think that Josh went a little too far,” noted Moedt, who sat out all of last season with a torn ACL in his right knee. “But they’ve got some guys that really like to try and play a little too physical, maybe outside the rules.

“I think he (Coston) works really hard to get into people’s heads. I think it’ll be a mental test for us.”

The Cascades men are ranked 10th in the nation, and at 9-5 in Canada West play, they’re one game up on the Spartans (8-6) for the third and final guaranteed playoff spot in the Pacific Division.

If the Cascades are regarded as favourites, Moedt clearly doesn’t mind.

“On paper, we’re the more talented team, I would think, and we’re a bigger team that’s got some more depth than them,” he said. “I think that as long as we play our game and play the way we’ve been playing the past couple weeks, we should pull out the win.”

Cascades head coach Barnaby Craddock spoke in more measured tones about the match-up with the Spartans.

“We’re definitely treating it just like any other game and trying to perform our best,” he said. “At 18 games, it’s a short season, and every game has value for playoff seeding.”

Craddock said playing at the AESC represents a great opportunity for the Cascades to showcase themselves to the community.

“We’re bringing a very high-quality product, some of the top university basketball in the country, right here in Abbotsford,” he said. ” This is a great venue to get it out there and get it noticed. Sometimes I still feel like it’s a hidden secret.”

WOMEN’S GAME A STUDY IN CONTRASTS

The Cascades women are equally excited about the chance to play on a big stage.

“It’s kind of special playing in an arena of that size,” UFV coach Al Tuchscherer said. “It just feels a bit more big-time. Everybody gets a little more excited to play in that environment.”

Tuchscherer’s squad is quietly putting together a terrific season – like the Cascades men, they’re No. 10 in the national rankings. They’re second in the Pacific Division with a 10-4 record, trailing only the traditional powerhouse UBC Thunderbirds (10-2).

The Spartans are right behind them at 7-7, and Tuchscherer had high praise for Cheryl Jean-Paul, TWU’s sophomore head coach. Last season, the Spartans limped to a 3-21 record, but Jean-Paul has engineered a quick turnaround.

“She’s done a great job in a short period of time turning that program around,” Tuchscherer said. “Our team obviously recognizes that.

“They’re sneaking up behind us in the standings, and they could take that second-place finish away from us if we don’t take care of business.”

The women’s game represents a stylistic clash. The speedy Cascades start three guards (Tessa Klassen, Aieisha Luyken and Courtney Bartel) and boast just one starter over six feet tall – centre Sarah Wierks (6’2″).

The taller Spartans start three forwards, headlined by 6’4″ Laurelle Weigl, a three-time CIS national champ with the SFU Clan who transferred to Trinity this season.

“It’s going to be a bit of a match-up issue,” Tuchscherer said, “so we’ll see who’s more effective.

“Hopefully our guards will be able to break them down at the offensive end of the floor.”

• Tickets for Saturday’s doubleheader are available at the AESC box office, as well as the two other local box office locations at Matsqui Recreation Centre and Abbotsford Recreation Centre. They are also available on campus at UFV and TWU.

For more information, contact UFV’s David Kent at 604-309-7658 or david.kent@ufv.ca.