By Ali Baggott, Vikes Communications

Head coach Dani Sinclair returns to the helm of the University of Victoria Vikes women’s basketball program for her sixth season and the 2018-19 Vikes roster have a near-identical look to last year that saw the program go 11-0 at the end of their regular season campaign. With no graduating players the Vikes will start their Canada West campaign this weekend, Oct. 26-27, with a trip to Winnipeg for a double header against the Wesmen.

Last season the Vikes posted a 16-4 regular season record to finish fourth overall in the conference, while the team was knocked out in the best-of-three quarter-finals by the Calgary Dinos, who went on to claim Canada West bronze and fifth place at the U SPORTS National Championship.

“It’s been pretty wide open so far this season with different people needing to step up in different ways,” described Sinclair of her team’s pre-season shape to date. “We have a lot of versatile players like Aleah AshleeAshlyn Day and Hailey Weaver that can step in to the three, four, five or two roles and we are hoping that allows us to be able to adjust our game and alter it depending on who we are playing.”

So far in pre-season the Vikes have posted a 3-3 record, with the three victories all coming at the end of their six-game pre-season schedule. On Sept. 28-29 the Vikes hosted UNBC for two games during the annual Guy Vetrie Memorial Tournament in CARSA, but the Timberwolves came out on tip by scores of 75-62 and 83-71. The Vikes then travelled to Ontario for games against McMaster and Western, with a lopsided margin in both games, losing to McMaster (78-42) and beating Western (77-38).

“It’s been a roller coast pre-season in terms of consistency in play but we learned a lot and our last weekend in Alberta we really saw the team playing together as a team and for each other,” said Sinclair, who also added Shalie Dheensaw to her coaching staff this year.

The team finished on the rise after returning home from the Pandas Hoopfest in Edmonton, Alta. with wins over each of Alberta and Fraser Valley. Senior Amira Giannattasio established herself as the leading scorer throughout the pre-season putting up double digits in five of six games including 21 and 24 points in the games against UNBC.

“We are really excited for Amira to be entering her last year because you can see how people want to play with her and for her,” noted Sinclair about the Hamilton, Ont. stand out. “It’s special to see how the team rallies around (the fifth years) as they enter the end of their Vikes career.”

“It’s a bit bitter sweet because we have to soak up every last bit of her that we have. She is a great person and she has shown us that she is locked, loaded and so focused coming in to this season.”

Giannattasio was the Vikes’ leading scorer last year alongside fellow fifth year Kristy Gallagher, who was named a 2017-18 Canada West Second Team All-Star. Both Giannattasio and Gallagher averaged over 17 points per game last season.

“We really can’t rely on one person to score though because if we don’t have others step up we will be in trouble,” added Sinclair.

Those who will also play key roles for the Vikes include the third year class of Aleah Ashlee and Calli McMillan and fourth years Morgan Roskelley and Katie Langdon.

“Last year Aleah was really big for us defensively and now this year she is really starting to make a lot of plays offensively and can help us elevate our game if she continues to be a scorer for us,” said Sinclair of the Comox, B.C. guard. “Also, Katie Langdon has to continue to be a good presence inside for us and will play a big role.”

“Calli and Morgan offer us that combo-guard position because they play so well together. Morgan is so key because she is so tough mentally and is such a great team player with a great level of compete. Calli played a huge role for us coming off the bench last year and now she is figuring how she can control a game. It’s exciting to watch her play because she’s so dynamic.”

Last season’s Canada West All-Rookie team member Ashlyn Day will also be back in the fold, along with fifth year Paige Thomson who returns after a year away due to injury. The Vikes will also be looking to six-foot forward and rookie Roza Kalashnikoff to offset some key minutes for Langdon. Kalashnikoff played basketball in high school but has a unique story in that she rowed competitively for the Vikes rowing program prior to this season but made the switch back to basketball for 2018-19.

This weekend the Vikes will be looking to neutralize Winnipeg’s Faith Hezekiah and Lena Wenke. Both are fourth years on the team and Hezekiah was Winnipeg’s second-leading scorer, averaging 16.8 points per game and starting 19 of 20 games.

The Vikes and Wesmen will tip off at 4:00 p.m. on Oct. 26 and 5:00 p.m. on Oct. 27. Both times are listed in Pacific time. Games will be webcast live on pay-per-view at canadawest.tv while live scores are always available on the women’s basketball schedule page at canadawest.org.

VICTORIA VIKES

2017-18 CW regular season record: 16-4, 4th (5th in RPI)
2017-18 post-season record: 1-2, lost to Calgary in Canada West quarter-finals
Last CW championship / total CW championships: 1999-00 / 18
Last U SPORTS championship / total U SPORTS championships: 2002-03 / 9
Head Coach: Dani Sinclair (6th Season) / 65-37

2017-18 CW regular season ranks:

Offence: 76.2 PPG, 3rd
Defence: 72.4 PPG, 13th

2017-18 CW regular season leaders:

Points per game: 17.9 – Amira Giannattasio, G
Assists per game: 4.2 – Kristy Gallagher, G
Rebounds per game: 8.0 – Marissa Dheenshaw, F
Blocks per game: 0.5 – Marissa Dheenshaw, F, Ashlyn Day, G, Kristy Gallagher, G

Key additions (name / position / eligibility / hometown / last team):
Roza Kalashnikoff / F / 1st Year / Kelowna, B.C. / Kelowna Secondary

Key returnees (name / position / eligibility / hometown / last team):
Kristy Gallagher / G / 5th Year / Sidney, B.C. / Parkland Secondary
Amira Giannattasio / G / 5th Year / Hamilton, Ont. / St. Mary’s Catholic School
Katie Langdon / F / 4th Year / Owen Sound, Ont. / St. Mary’s High School

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