Saturday is Senior Night: Cascades to celebrate fifth-year basketball stars Sartori, Dulay and Dhillon

On Saturday evening, the University of the Fraser Valley athletic department will honour a trio of fifth-year basketball players who have made an indelible impact during their time with the Cascades.

Kayli Sartori of the women’s basketball team and Manny Dulay and Vijay Dhillon of the men’s squad will be playing their final regular-season home games, and fans are invited to celebrate their outstanding careers. The Cascades are playing the Victoria Vikes (women 5 p.m., men 7 p.m. at the Envision Athletic Centre), and an on-court Senior Night ceremony will be held immediately after the women’s game ends.

Sartori, Dulay and Dhillon took some time this week to reflect on their university athletic careers.

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Al Tuchscherer still remembers the first time he saw Kayli Sartori set foot on a basketball court. It was the summer of 2007, and the Cascades women’s basketball head coach had just launched the Junior Cascades youth basketball club. Sartori’s mom was looking for somewhere for her daughter to play, but Tuchscherer’s U15 team had already been practicing for a couple weeks. The coaching staff debated whether or not to let her join up late, but ultimately gave her the green light.

Best. Decision. Ever.

“At one of our first Junior Cascades games, she’s attacking the hoop and getting steals, and I remember Yosh (Burton), our assistant coach at the time, saying, ‘What’s she going to do, shoot a three next?’” Tuchscherer related. “And within five minutes, she comes down and hits a three. We just looked at each other and laughed.

“And 10 years later, here we are.”

Where are we, exactly? Well, Sartori’s basketball journey still has a few games remaining, but it’s safe to say she’ll go down as one of the greatest players ever to wear the green and white of the Cascades. Tuchscherer calls her the most gifted athlete he’s ever coached, and it’s easy to see why – the 6’1” guard/forward can play (and guard) any of the five positions on the floor, and her LeBron James-like versatility is born out in the stats. She boasts the highest scoring average (12.8 points per game) of any player in the Cascades’ CIS/U Sports era, dating back to 2006, and she’s also among the program’s all-time leaders in steals (first), assists (third), rebounds (third) and blocks (third).

In terms of accolades, Sartori was a tournament all-star at the 2014 CIS Final 8 national championship as the Cascades won bronze, and she was the Canada West scoring champ, a conference first team all-star, and a U Sports second team All-Canadian last season.

But what Tuchscherer is most proud of is the way Sartori has grown as a leader. Over her first three seasons on campus, her natural talent carried her. But after taking the 2014-15 season off, she’s returned as a more focused athlete.

“She cares about the program and where it goes from here,” Tuchscherer said. “She’s worked hard to mentor our younger kids coming into our program, and that’s not something that necessarily comes natural to her. Everything kind of comes easy to her (athletically), so to see her embrace that side of things when it’s not something that comes easy to her, I think that’s kind of neat. It’s rewarding to see that.”

On being a veteran leader on a rookie-laden squad this season, Sartori said it’s been important to build strong relationships with her teammates in order to give context to the intensity and urgency that a fifth-year player’s guidance tends to be packaged in.

“At the start of the season, they were probably like, ‘Who is this girl and what have we gotten into?’” Sartori said with a chuckle. “This year, I need to be bad cop, then I need to be good cop, then I need to be bad cop again. The girls have been great about letting me make those adjustments.”

The Chilliwack, B.C. product hopes to play professionally overseas after graduation, and with Senior Night fast approaching, she’s given thought to her legacy at UFV.

“As far as legacy, I have thought where I would be on the list of players for Al,” she said. “My list has about six or seven players above me, so to hear what he had to say (about being the most gifted athlete he’s coached) hits me right in the feel-goods. It makes it all worth it.”

Supplementary reading:

‘Hawks make history, edge Claremont in provincial final’ – Abbotsford News, March 12 2011

‘A return to her roots’ – Greg Laychak, Chilliwack Times, Sept. 30 2015

‘Back from the farm, Sartori sowing bumper crop in her return to Fraser Valley Cascades’ – Howard Tsumura, The Province, Jan. 21 2016

‘Kayli Sartori makes most of second chance with UFV Cascades’ – Eric Welsh, Chilliwack Progress, Jan. 9 2017

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For Manny Dulay, Senior Night has him reflecting on all the other great fifth-year players he’s suited up with during his time with the Cascades.

The names floating through his brain are a who’s-who of Cascades stars of recent vintage… Kyle Grewal. Sam Freeman. Klaus Figueredo. Jasper Moedt. Kevon Parchment. Dulay’s skillset doesn’t completely overlap with any of them, but he’s gleaned bits and pieces from each to make him the player he is today.

“From Kyle, I got that energy and how to get the best out of your teammates,” Dulay began. “From Sam, it was the scoring aspect, being fearless. From Klaus, it was that leadership aspect. From guys like Jasper, it was about how to build a team and get that team on the same page. And there’s no one I’ve met who works harder than Kevon, especially on game days. Those guys are the reason for my success.

“You look back and think about some of these guys, and it’s like, man, the impact they had on you without them even knowing. It’s unbelievable.”

Even more impactful than those luminaries who wore the Cascades jersey, Dulay says, is UFV head coach Adam Friesen. What began as shooting sessions in the gym in his rookie year morphed into discussions about the type of shots Dulay should be shooting, which in turn became a veritable graduate-level education on the game of basketball with plenty of give-and-take between student and professor.

“A lot of coaches (in U Sports), they don’t actually get in the gym with you, they get their assistant coaches to do that,” Dulay said. “And that’s when he really started respecting my basketball IQ – we started bouncing ideas off each other, figuring out what plays would work, where I would be most successful.

“He showed me what I needed to do, he kept it very simple, and that made it very easy for me to become the player I am today.”

The player he is today is one of the most prolific and accurate shooters in Canada West history, not to mention one of the league’s most outstanding playmakers. With four games to go to bolster his career stats, Dulay sits fifth in conference history in three-pointers made with 226; fourteen more, and he’ll leapfrog Casey Archibald (UBC Thunderbirds, 2002-07) and Danny Balderson (Lethbridge Pronghorns, 1993-95, 1997-2000) for third place all-time.

Dulay’s sparkling senior season, furthermore, sees him 13th in Canada West scoring (16.8 points per game) and second in assists (4.6 per game).

Dulay is the first player to play all five years under Friesen, now in his fifth year at the helm of the Cascades. The UFV bench boss termed his most tenured pupil “a pleasure to coach” and “a natural leader.”

“Even when he was younger and we had a bunch of different personalities on the team, whenever emotions would flare up and the intensity would rise, he was able to get everyone’s attention just by opening his mouth,” Friesen related. “When he speaks, everyone listens.

“It’s been great to see the growth in him, not only on the court but off the court, and how well he’s been performing as a senior is a credit to his work ethic and his dedication.

“On the shooting side of things, it’s tough for him to surprise us at this point, either for how deep he can make a shot or how contested. But how well he rebounds the basketball (4.9 per game) and finds ways to get steals (2.4 per game, second in the conference) are areas of the game I wasn’t sure he could ever excel at. . . it shows his commitment to winning.”

Dulay is majoring in kinesiology and minoring in business, and after graduation, he plans to pursue his teaching credentials with the goal of one day returning to teach and coach basketball at his alma mater, Tamanawis Secondary in Surrey.

Supplementary reading:

‘UFV basketball: Moustachioed Manny powers men’s squad, women thrive on defence’ – Abbotsford News, Nov. 4 2013

‘Newton’s Dulay shoots for record number of treys among Canadian university ballers’ – Tom Zillich, Surrey Now, Jan. 25 2017

‘UFV’s Manny Dulay closing out his final year as Canada’s deadliest three-point shooter’ – Howard Tsumura, The Province, Jan. 25 2017

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For Vijay Dhillon, Senior Night will bring his university basketball career full-circle. After graduating from R.C. Palmer Secondary in Richmond, B.C. in 2011 – fresh off leading the Palmer Griffins to the B.C. AAA high school championship and earning MVP honours – he signed with the Victoria Vikes and spent two seasons in the provincial capital.

But after averaging just 8.5 and 10.9 minutes per game over his first two years, he departed the program, feeling he had more to give and seeking a larger on-court role.

That he ended up at UFV is something which, upon reflection, he kind of chuckles at – the Cascades (pre-Friesen) were one of the few B.C. schools which didn’t recruit him out of high school. Dhillon, after departing UVic, connected with Friesen after accepting an invitation from Kyle Grewal to attend an open gym session at UFV in the summer. Friesen was well aware of his high school pedigree, and after a few more open gym runs he secured a redshirt spot for 2013-14 and subsequently emerged as a key contributor for the Cascades over the next three seasons.

And now here he is – ready to play his last home game against the team he began this university journey with.

“I couldn’t ask for a better senior night,” Dhillon said with a smile. “To go out against who I came in with, that’s going to be pretty cool. When I saw the schedule in the summer, I asked Coach (Friesen) if he had any role in this. He said no, so I told him to look at the schedule and see who we’re playing on senior night, and he just started laughing.”

Dhillon’s shooting exhibitions, likewise, have put many a smile on Friesen’s face over the years. Last season, the combo guard led Canada West and finished second in the nation with 61 three-pointers made. This season, he’s second on the Cascades in scoring (11.5 points per game) while shooting a very healthy 40.8 per cent from beyond the arc.

When Dhillon was in Grade 12 and Dulay was in Grade 11, Dhillon’s Palmer squad knocked out Dulay’s Tamanawis Wildcats in the provincial quarter-finals en route to the title. These days, the former foes comprise the conference’s deadliest backcourt in terms of three-point shooting – between them, they average 6.4 triples per game, far and away the most by a pair of teammates in Canada West. Austin Waddoups and Geoff Pippus of the Alberta Golden Bears are closest, combining for 4.7 per game.

“Coming out of high school, people looked at us like we were too slow, too this, too that,” said Dhillon, whose future plans include attending law school. “Right now it’s pretty cool that we’re some of the most feared people to play against. It’s been fun. We’re really good friends – on road trips we’re always hanging out together, and it’s been nice to see that we’re very similar in terms of how we practice our habits.”

Friesen said that when he became aware Dhillon was looking for a place to play post-UVic, “we knew he was a great guy who could add a lot of character and talent.”

“He’s been a really valuable piece to our team,” he said. “It’s been great to see his talent really flourish and for him to continually have better years each of his seasons with us.”

Supplementary reading:

‘Miracle comeback carries Palmer past Vancouver College 71-63 and Griffins’ first B.C. hoops title’ – Howard Tsumura, The Province, March 20 2011

‘Former Palmer star at home in the Valley’ – Mark Booth, Richmond News, Nov. 18 2016

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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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