The University of the Fraser Valley sports teams begin their second-semester schedules this weekend, and one of the more fascinating ongoing storylines is how long the men’s basketball team will be able to stretch its epic regular-season win streak.
Head coach Adam Friesen’s squad has won 22 consecutive Canada West regular season games dating back to November 2013 – a stretch which includes 14 straight victories to close out the 2013-14 campaign, and eight wins in eight conference outings to open the 2014-15 season.
The streak will be on the line at home this weekend, as the Cascades host the Mount Royal Cougars in a two-game set at the Envision Athletic Centre (Friday 8 p.m., Saturday 7 p.m.).
“To be consistent, it takes a whole team,” analyzed third-year bench boss Friesen, whose team is currently No. 9 in the CIS national rankings. “We’ve needed contributions from different guys on different nights to get wins during this stretch.
“We did it by first of all by having good leadership within the team. And with that came good chemistry, which is the reason why the streak happened. Those two things allowed us to be consistent with our effort each weekend.”
The Cascades’ chemistry is evident in their remarkable offensive balance, which sees six players averaging double-figure points: Nate Brown (14.8), Dominique Brooks (13.2), Kevon Parchment (12.1), Kadeem Willis (11.5), Jasper Moedt (10.9) and Manny Dulay (10.1).
But it’s defence which is the team’s greatest statistical strength – they lead Canada West in opponents’ points per game (69.4) and opponents’ field goal percentage (36.7).
“We won many of those games in low-scoring contests,” Friesen noted. “It takes two things to be good defensively – you have to have the personnel in terms of protecting the rim and quickness. And secondly, it’s five people playing as one. It requires trust and a care level to do the best you can because you don’t want to disappoint your teammates.”
At 8-0 this season, the Cascades are the only remaining undefeated team in Canada West and hold a comfortable four-game lead in the Explorers Division over Mount Royal and the Thompson Rivers WolfPack (both 4-4).
The Calgary-based Cougars come into this weekend with the least prolific offence in the conference in terms of points per game (69.8), but boast a very good defence which ranks fourth in points allowed (72.2) and seventh in opponents’ field goal percentage (40.0). Fifth-year guard Deng Awak paces the team in scoring (10.6 points per game), highlighted by 88 per cent shooting from the free throw line, and also averages 5.1 rebounds.
“They’ve had some really impressive wins, and they gave us our only home defeat last season,” Friesen noted, alluding to his team’s 62-60 setback to the Cougars on Nov. 15, 2013. “We know what they’re capable of, and how dangerous they can be.”
WBB: Major playoff implications in Cascades-Cougars clash
The Cascades women’s hoopsters face their Cougars counterparts in a crucial two-game set at the EAC, with tip-off times set for 6 p.m. on Friday and 5 p.m. Saturday.
UFV find itself on the bubble in the race for one of the three Explorers Division playoff spots – they currently hold down third place with a 4-4 record, a game ahead of Mount Royal and the UBC Okanagan Heat (both 3-5). Thus, this weekend’s games are, in the words of Cascades head coach Al Tuchscherer, “a pretty big deal.”
“At this time of year, everybody is keyed up and nothing is guaranteed,” he said. “We need to be better than we have been to beat this team.”
Tuchscherer wants to see his squad make strides in terms of team defence, which goes hand-in-hand with work ethic, and he saw positive signs along those lines during the Cascades’ trip to Arizona for exhibition games between Christmas and New Year’s.
Fifth-year centre Sarah Wierks has been a pillar of strength for UFV this season – she leads Canada West in rebounding (13.4 per game) and ranks fourth in scoring (17.5 points per game).
Wierks is also climbing the all-time Canada West rebounding list. The Chilliwack native began the season in ninth place, but has already moved up to sixth with 849 boards collected during her illustrious career. If she stays healthy and maintains her current pace, she’ll wind up second overall by season’s end.
Wrestling: Cascades hit the road for Golden Bear Invitational
The UFV wrestling program, armed with an infusion of fresh talent, takes their show on the road to Edmonton for the Golden Bear Invitational this weekend.
It’s the program’s second Canada West tournament of the season – they opened the campaign at the University of Calgary’s Dino Invitational in late October, before spending the balance of the fall attending NCAA and NAIA tourneys in the Lower Mainland, Washington and Oregon.
“I think the biggest thing this weekend is that every single school now has their rosters set,” said UFV co-coach Raj Virdi, who has seen his roster swell from nine eligible varsity athletes in the first semester (six male, three female) to 16 in the second semester (12 male, four female). “These are the wrestlers you’ll see in the weight classes at the Canada West and CIS championships. In the first semester, a lot of kids were ineligible.
“I think we should do fairly well. We’ve got to see how these guys perform under pressure. We have high expectations of them, and I’m sure they do of themselves as well.”
Jasmit Phulka has been UFV’s top performer to this point in the season, winning gold medals in the men’s 82 kg weight class at the Dino Invitational and the SFU International.
WVB: Cascades ready to roll vs. Royals
In recent years, the UFV women’s volleyball team has – more often than not – had a bye scheduled the first weekend back after the Christmas break. And that allowed them a bit more practice time before returning to the grind of PacWest regular season play.
This year, though, the Cascades have no such reprieve – they hit the road to take on the Douglas Royals in New Westminster (Friday and Saturday, 6 p.m. both nights, live webcast at sportscanada.tv/pacwest).
“It’s coming quick,” noted head coach Dennis Bokenfohr, whose team is No. 9 in the Canadian Colleges Athletic Association (CCAA) national rankings and sits third in the PacWest with a 7-5 record. “It’ll be interesting to see how quickly we can get back up to speed.
“But it hasn’t been much of a challenge – it’s been pretty fun and exciting as far as practices. When you have time to rest and some time away from volleyball, it recharges the batteries a bit. Everyone’s come back with a lot of energy.”
MVB: Cascades back at full strength
A five-set victory at home over the Douglas Royals on Nov. 14 was arguably the high point of the first semester for the UFV men’s volleyball team, in light of the fact that the Cascades were an injury-riddled outfit at the time and Douglas was (and still is) ranked No. 2 in the nation.
The two teams renew hostilities this weekend in New West (Friday and Saturday, 8 p.m. both nights, live webcast at sportscanada.tv/pacwest), and UFV’s roster will be bolstered by the return of setter Ryan Thain and left sides Kurtis Stromdahl and Nick Bruce, all of whom were sidelined due to injury for significant portions of the first semester.
While improved health is a boon to the Cascades, they’ll be facing a Royals team which leads the PacWest at 10-2 and will undoubtedly be eager to avenge one of their only two losses this season. UFV, ranked No. 15 in the nation, is in fourth place in the PacWest at 6-6.
“The best thing for us right now is that we’re healthy again,” said head coach Kyle Donen, noting that the return of Thain, Stromdahl and Bruce has increased the team’s depth and subsequently the competition level at practice. “It’s important for us going in (vs. Douglas), getting to play with a different lineup than last time. That might give us an edge.”