WEEKEND PREVIEW: Cascades basketball, volleyball teams in action at home

The Envision Financial Athletic Centre will be buzzing this weekend, as the University of the Fraser Valley basketball and volleyball teams host big games.

It’s the last home basketball games of the season for the Cascades, as they welcome the Manitoba Bisons for a Friday-Saturday set. The games are particularly intriguing on the women’s side – both teams are battling for a playoff spot, and the Cascades can assure themselves a post-season berth with a pair of wins.

The Cascades volleyball teams, meanwhile, welcome a pair of highly ranked foes from Vancouver Island University. The Mariners men are No. 1 in the latest CCAA national rankings, while the women are No. 3. Both UFV squads are also ranked – No. 7 for the women, No. 15 for the men.

The weekend slate is highlighted by a number of special events and promotions. Friday is the women’s basketball team’s annual Shoot for the Cure game night in support of breast cancer research, and fans can to donate to the cause in person or online. The MEI Screaming Eagles marching band will also be in attendance on Friday.

Saturday is Senior Night for Cascades women’s basketball players Shayna Litman and Sara Simovic – both fifth-year players will be suiting up for the final home games of their university careers, and they’ll be celebrated in a post-game ceremony. Additionally, the Cascades are partnering with the Abbotsford Basketball Association for a Club Basketball Night promo. Youth basketball players wearing their jerseys will receive free admission.

WBB: Cascades control playoff destiny

Seniors Sara Simovic (pictured above) and Shayna Litman will be playing the final home games of their university careers this weekend vs. Manitoba.

Friday, Feb. 2: Cascades (7-11, 12th in Canada West) vs. Manitoba Bisons (8-10, 11th in Canada West), 6 p.m.

Saturday, Feb. 3: Cascades vs. Bisons, 5 p.m.

Envision Financial Athletic Centre

Webcast: CanadaWest.tv

The Cascades find themselves just inside the playoff bubble heading into the final weekend of the regular season, occupying the 12th and final conference post-season spot. The Bisons, likewise, have yet to sew up a playoff berth, sitting just ahead of the Cascades in 11th. In the chase position are the Thompson Rivers WolfPack – their 7-11 record matches the Cascades, but UFV holds the tiebreaker by virtue of a 2-0 head-to-head record. TRU hosts Brandon this weekend.

The simplest way to break it down is, the Cascades control their playoff destiny. Two wins this weekend means they’re in the playoffs for an eighth straight season. Anything less, and they’re sweating out the TRU-Brandon results.

“We need to do some things that maybe we haven’t done consistently all year – we need to defend, rebound, and hunt great shots,” UFV bench boss Al Tuchscherer said, looking ahead to the challenge his team faces this weekend. “When we do those things, we’re a pretty good team. When we don’t, we make it pretty tough for ourselves.”

Players to watch: This weekend marks the homecourt finales for Cascades fifth-year standouts Shayna Litman and Sara Simovic. Litman, a 5’11” forward out of Centennial Secondary in Coquitlam, B.C., has been a member of the Cascades for six seasons, including an injury redshirt year in 2015-16, and her association with the program goes back even further than that as she played youth club basketball for the Junior Cascades. She’s the last holdover on the roster from the Cascades’ national bronze medal-winning squad of 2013-14, and she’s developed into a key contributor, leading the team in scoring this season (15.9 points per game) while pulling down 7.7 rebounds per night. Simovic, a 5’8” guard out of Wellington Secondary in Nanaimo, B.C., spent the past two seasons at UFV after previous stops with the Lethbridge Pronghorns and VIU Mariners. She’s been a dynamic backcourt presence for the Cascades, and currently sits second on the team in scoring (14.6 ppg) and first in assists (2.8 apg).

As for the visiting Bisons, third-year guard Nicole Konieczny garnered national accolades after an explosive 41-point performance in a win over the Lethbridge Pronghorns on Jan. 6. It was the sixth-most points in a single game in Canada West history, and earned her U SPORTS female athlete of the week honours. She’s averaging 12.8 points per game.

MBB: Cascades playing for pride

Cascades sophomore centre Sukhman Sandhu is leading Canada West in blocked shots. (Rich Lam/UBC Athletics file photo)

Friday, Feb. 2: Cascades (5-13, 14th in Canada West) vs. Manitoba Bisons (10-8, T-5th in Canada West), 8 p.m.

Saturday, Feb. 3: Cascades vs. Bisons, 7 p.m.

Envision Financial Athletic Centre

Webcast: CanadaWest.tv

The Cascades men’s hoopsters were eliminated from the playoff race last weekend, but even though there’s nothing tangible on the line, head coach Adam Friesen expects his team to be a motivated bunch vs. the Bisons.

“The motivation for us is just to continue growing – gaining experience, playing as hard as we can,” Friesen said. “We expect that next year is going to be different than this year in terms of the win-loss column, but how big a change is going to be dictated by the character we show playing in these types of games. . . . How badly do people want it? They’re going to have to show each other and show themselves on a weekend like this.”

The Bisons, meanwhile, have yet to punch their post-season ticket. They looked like a lock after sweeping Lethbridge Jan. 5-6, but have lost four in a row. Manitoba boasts the conference’s scoring leader, Justus Alleyn (24.1 ppg), and Friesen noted it will be a “huge challenge” to slow him down.

“We’re going to have to make things uncomfortable for him, we’re going to have to keep fresh bodies on him,” Friesen said. “If we can try to keep him away from the foul line, and contest his threes while making it challenging to get to the rim, we have a chance.”

Players to watch: Cascades 6’10” sophomore centre Sukhman Sandhu returned to the lineup last weekend after missing four games due to injury and provided a spark on the road vs. UNBC, averaging 15 points per game over the two-game set. The Surrey, B.C. product is running away with the Canada West blocks-per-game title, swatting 2.3 shots a night, 0.5 more than anyone else in the conference. He also shoots 38.3 per cent from beyond the arc. Speaking of proficient long-distance shooting, the aforementioned Justus Alleyn ranks fifth in Canada West in three-point percentage (44 per cent) and his 59 made threes are second-most in the conference.

WVB: Cascades look to establish consistency

Amanda Matsui (centre) and the Cascades are looking to knock off the No. 3-ranked team in the nation this weekend.

Friday, Feb. 2: No. 7 Cascades (11-7, 3rd in PACWEST) vs. No. 3 VIU Mariners (15-3, T-1st in PACWEST), 6 p.m.

Saturday, Feb. 3: Cascades vs. Mariners, 1 p.m.

Envision Financial Athletic Centre (North Gym)

Webcast: pacwestbc.tv

The Cascades are coming off a bit of a Jekyll-and-Hyde weekend which saw them lose in three sets to the Capilano Blues last Thursday and then bounce back for a three-set win over the same squad Saturday. They’ll be tested at a high level against VIU as they seek to establish the consistency that head coach Mike Gilray craves.

“I’d rather have consistent every night than perfect once in a while,” Gilray said. “Like it has been all season, it’s about taking care of our side and slowing down some of their strengths. They’re a good team – they’re going to score, they have weapons at all positions. We’ve got to look to slow them down and put them under a bit of pressure so they’re not in their first-tempo offence all the time.

“This is a real good test for us to see where we’re at going into our last couple (regular season) weekends and getting ready for provincials here. That’s the quality of team we’re going to have to beat if we want to move on to nationals, right?”

Players to watch: Rookie setter Olivia Heinen has kept the Cascades’ offence humming, averaging 8.98 assists per set this season, and Gilray has been particularly pleased with her strong play of late. On the opposite side of the net, VIU’s Andrea Cankovic leads her team in total offence (3.20 points per set, seventh in PACWEST) and also ranks among the conference leaders in aces (second) and kills (13th).

MVB: No. 1 Mariners the ultimate test for Cascades

Libero Evan Bell-Foley and the Cascades are hoping to celebrate a win over the No. 1-ranked VIU Mariners this weekend. (Northfield Photography file photo)

Friday, Feb. 2: No. 15 Cascades (9-9, T-3rd in PACWEST) vs. No. 1 VIU Mariners (15-3, 2nd in PACWEST), 8 p.m.

Saturday, Feb. 3: Cascades vs. Mariners, 3 p.m.

Envision Financial Athletic Centre (North Gym)

Webcast: pacwestbc.tv

The weekend match-up for the Cascades men’s volleyball team became a bit more intriguing when Tuesday’s CCAA national rankings were released and the Mariners jumped up to the No. 1 spot. UFV is No. 15 in those same rankings, and will be looking to engineer an upset on their home floor.

“They’re an experienced team, and they have two setters who have really done a good job distributing the ball for their team, which makes them a difficult offensive team to play against,” Cascades head coach Kyle Donen said. “The other part of the game that they do really well is, they’re a good serving team. They put teams under pressure from the service line. A goal for us this weekend is to be good in our serve receive game, and give ourselves a chance to fire on all cylinders.”

Players to watch: Cascades sophomore middle Josh Fefchak has been one of the team’s unsung heroes this season. Despite being relatively undersized for a middle at 6’0”, the graduate of Abbotsford’s Mennonite Educational Institute has been extremely effective as a blocker – he’s averaging 0.50 blocks per set, good for eighth in the PACWEST and tied for tops on the team with Nick Bruce. Fefchak and the Cascades will have their hands full against VIU’s Braydon Brouwer – the PACWEST’s reigning MVP tops the conference’s total offence list, averaging 4.88 points per set.

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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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