Cascades weekend preview: Huge road trip for soccer teams, women’s hoopsters host preseason games

Kree Byrne (foreground) and the Cascades men's soccer team face the UVic Vikes and the UBC Thunderbirds this weekend.

Kree Byrne (foreground) and the Cascades men’s soccer team face the UVic Vikes and the UBC Thunderbirds this weekend.

It’s a massive weekend for the University of the Fraser Valley soccer teams.

Both the Cascades men and the Cascades women come into the final weekend of the regular season with a shot at accomplishing something unprecedented in either program’s history – earning the right to host a Canada West playoff game.

Head coach Rob Giesbrecht’s UFV soccer women have already clinched a playoff berth as one of the top six teams in the West Division. The top three get to host a conference quarter-final match, and the Cascades (8-3-1, 25 points) currently sit third. The fourth-place UVic Vikes (7-2-3, 24 points) are nipping at their heels, though. The Cascades could also conceivably catch the UBC Thunderbirds (10-1-1, 31 points) or the Trinity Western Spartans (9-1-2, 29 points), depending on how those two teams fare this weekend.

The Cascades begin their road swing at UBC on Friday at 5 p.m. UFV handed the T-Birds their only loss of the season by a 2-1 count back on Sept. 12 at Abbotsford Senior Secondary. On Saturday, Giesbrecht’s side takes the ferry to Victoria to face the Vikes in another 5 p.m. start. The two teams battled to a scoreless draw in the regular-season opener on Sept. 11.

The Cascades have been getting great offensive contributions all season long from the likes of Monika Levarsky and Gurneet Dhaliwal, who are tied for the team lead in goals with six, and Shelby Beck, whose seven assists are tied for first in the conference. Rookie midfielder Brittney Zacharuk is coming off a five-point weekend (two goals, three assists) in wins over the Manitoba Bisons and Winnipeg Wesmen, earning Canada West female third star of the week honours for her efforts.

“Earning a home playoff game would be a great accomplishment,” Giesbrecht acknowledged. “We enjoy playing at home, and you want any competitive advantage you can get. But we’re not fearful of going on the road – we’ve proven we can do that before.

“For us, it’s about making sure we’re in good form and healthy, and preparing to execute when it matters most. When I look back at our season, our lack of execution has been our downfall at certain times – it’s cost us. But I think our team has shown signs of starting to click, and that’s exciting.”

The Cascades men’s soccer team (5-3-2, 17 points) finds itself in a similar logjam in the standings, albeit in a slightly different playoff format in the Pacific Division. Head coach Tom Lowndes’s crew is coming off a bye week, but they managed to clinch a top-four postseason berth due to results elsewhere. They’re currently in second place, which would mean a home playoff game, but Trinity Western (5-3-2, 17 points) and UVic (4-3-3, 15 points) are in the mix as well. The Cascades own the head-to-head tiebreaker with the Spartans.

The UFV men’s weekend schedule is the opposite of the women – they open at UVic on Friday at 7:15 p.m., and finish at first-place UBC (9-0-1) on Saturday at 7 p.m. In head-to-head action earlier this season, the Cascades beat the Vikes 2-1 on Sept. 19, and suffered a 3-2 defeat to the T-Birds (currently tied for top spot in the CIS national rankings) on Sept. 18.

Lowndes’s squad has gotten great offensive contributions this season from right back Colton O’Neill, striker Daniel Davidson and midfielders Kree Byrne and Connor MacMillan, who are tied for the team lead in goals with three. Striker James Najman has also made an impact, with two goals and a team-high four assists.

“It’s the biggest regular-season week, probably, in the program’s history,” Lowndes said. “We set our goals at the start of the season, myself and the players, and we said top-two (in the Pacific Division). We felt that was attainable, and to go into the final weekend and have that within reach is pleasing. It’s going to be a tough weekend – we’re playing two excellent programs. But our destiny is in our hands.

“I think we’ve finally got out of that cliché of a growing program, to a really strong program in Canada West, and that’s pleasing. It’s a testament to the players’ hard work, and the hard work of (former head coach) Alan Errington before me.”

WBB: Cascades host Capilano Blues, Western Mustangs in exhibition action

The Cascades women’s basketball team resumes its preseason preparations at home this weekend at the Envision Athletic Centre. They host the PacWest’s Capilano Blues at 6 p.m. on Friday, and the Western Mustangs – a fellow CIS program from London, Ont. – at 6 p.m. on Saturday. Admission will be by donation of a non-perishable food item for the Abbotsford Food Bank.

The Blues are widely thought to be among the favourites in the PacWest conference this season. The Mustangs, coached by former Victoria Vikes bench boss Brian Cheng, are coming off a 7-13 record last season in the Ontario University Athletics (OUA) conference. They’re making a preseason swing through B.C. that also includes games at UVic on Friday and at UBC on Sunday.

The Cascades, for their part, are coming off a 79-62 exhibition win over Vancouver Island University last Friday which featured big games from third-year guard Kaitlyn McDonald (18 points, 6-for-7 from three-point range) and rookie forward Taylor Claggett (13 points, 16 rebounds).

“It’s our last two exhibition games before we get into conference play, so it’s our last chance to experiment with some things against a couple of solid programs,” UFV head coach Al Tuchscherer said. “You keep seeing strides from us in certain areas, but we’re not consistent for an entire game yet. There are some things we need to work on.”

MBB: Cascades to take part in Winnipeg preseason tourney

The UFV men’s basketball team is off to Winnipeg this weekend for the Lea Marc Printing Preseason Tournament.

The event pits the Cascades against the host Winnipeg Wesmen on Friday (6 p.m. Central time) and the Manitoba Bisons on Saturday (6 p.m. Central).

Head coach Adam Friesen’s squad last saw game action two weeks ago when they swept the Trinity Western Spartans in an home-and-home exhibition set, featuring strong performances from the likes of Vijay Dhillon and Kevon Parchment.

“We have a chance to play two quality teams, and a chance to spend a weekend on the road and build some memories while growing our team chemistry,” Friesen said. “We feel good. We’re coming together in terms of roles and understanding how we will be successful this year. The theme we’re talking about is five guys playing as one, whether we’re on the offensive end or the defensive end.”

Wrestling: Cascades to participate in Dinos Invitational

The UFV wrestling program opens the Canada West season this weekend, as they travel to the University of Calgary for the Dinos Invitational on Saturday.

Devin Purewal (men’s 72 kg) and Pravi Dhaliwal (women’s 59 kg) will represent the Cascades varsity, while Brad Hildenbrandt (men’s 90 kg) and Aman Kaler (men’s 65 kg) will compete on behalf of the UFV non-varsity wrestling club.

“For Pravi as a first-year university wrestler, it will be a big learning curve for her,” said Cascades wrestling team manager Ron Sweeney, who is working alongside co-coaches Arjan Bhullar and Raj Virdi this fall. “All of the other ones have been there (at Canada West competitions). They won’t have the same butterflies, they won’t have the same nervousness. They’ve done this before.”

MVB: Cascades visit national championship host Douglas Royals

The Douglas Royals are hosting the CCAA men’s volleyball championships in March of 2016, and this weekend, the Cascades are getting a taste of playing in their New Westminster gym. Game times are 8 p.m. on Friday and 7 p.m. on Saturday.

“We want to get a good grasp of what that court’s going to be like and remind ourselves when we leave that we’re going to be coming back at the end of the year as well,” head coach Kyle Donen said, alluding to his team’s goal of qualifying for nationals.

Donen’s squad faces a stiff test this weekend – the Royals have been a PacWest powerhouse in recent years, and are coming off a conference silver medal in 2014-15. Both teams are 2-0 coming in, with their wins coming in straight sets – the Cascades swept the Columbia Bible College Bearcats last weekend, while the Royals took two games vs. the Capilano Blues.

UFV right side Joel Kleingeltink (second in kills and total offence, third in aces), middle Dayton Pagliericci (third in blocks), libero Isaiah Dahl (third in digs) and outside hitter Adam Chaplin (fourth in aces) all sit top-five in PacWest statistical categories.

“It’s a tougher opponent, but we’re ready for the challenge,” Donen said. “These are the match-ups that the guys are excited about, and that I’m excited about as well. We’re preparing the way I think we need to, and we’ll be ready.”

WVB: Plenty of connections between Cascades and Royals

The UFV women’s volleyball team (2-0) also takes on Douglas (1-1) on the road this weekend, with their games preceding the men’s. Start times are 6 p.m. on Friday and 5 p.m. on Saturday.

Head coach Mike Gilray noted that many of the Cascades and Royals players know each other from playing on Lower Mainland club teams together. Additionally, UFV outside hitter Rachel Funk is quite well-acquainted with Douglas’s setter – it’s her sister Jessica.

“A bit of a sibling rivalry, I think, coming up this weekend,” Gilray said with a chuckle. “It’s exciting, because one’s a left side and one’s a setter, so there’s a very good chance they may be directly across from each other at the net.”

Rachel Funk ranks top-10 in the PacWest in kills (sixth), digs (sixth) and total offence (ninth), and other stat leaders for the Cascades include Nicole Blandford (first in aces), Monique Huber (fifth in aces, 11th in total offence) and Rachelle Flores (third in digs).

“I’ve been able to watch some video and get a little bit prepared,” Gilray said, looking ahead to facing the Royals. “But our focus, still early in the season, is definitely working on our side of the court and doing the things we want to be doing well. Douglas is a team that plays a similar style of defence to Columbia Bible College (the Cascades’ opponent last weekend), so it’s kind of nice going in that we’ve prepared for a week for a defence like that.”

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The University of the Fraser Valley is situated on the unceded traditional territory of the Stó:lō peoples. The Stó:lō have an intrinsic relationship with what they refer to as S’olh Temexw (Our Sacred Land); therefore, we express our gratitude and respect for the honour of living and working in this territory.

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