By Ali Baggott, Vikes Communications

For the second-straight season the University of Victoria Vikes will have to go through the Fraser Valley Cascades to make it through to the Canada West quarter-finals. The Vikes will host the Cascades at the CARSA Performance Gym for a single-knockout match up on Feb. 8 at 7:00 p.m.

The Vikes enter the first round as the No. 7-ranked team based on their 12-8 record and RPI of 0.541. Saskatchewan, Calgary, Regina and Alberta have secured the Top 4 spots, in that order, and quarter-final hosting rights. The Cascades finished at No. 10 with a 10-10 record.

“It’s nice to have home court and to not have to travel for sure,” said Vikes head coach Dani Sinclair, whose teams have secured a post-season spot in each of her years of coaching. “We have had great support from our community this year, especially last Saturday night against MacEwan, and hopefully that can continue into this Friday night.”

That support has been growing throughout the past five seasons thanks to the spectacular play of a fifth year and senior guard Amira Giannattasio. Since being Canada West Rookie of the Year in 2014-15, Giannattasio has been a force to contend with. Following her last two regular season games as a Vike the Hamilton, Ont. native cemented herself in the record books. With 1,539 career points, 402 of those coming in 2018-19, Giannattasio is now 13th in Canada West career scoring and third overall in Vikes women’s basketball history.

After scoring 44 points in her last regular season game, also the second time this year she has scored 44 in a single game, Giannattasio surpassed UVic Sports Hall of Fame inductee Luanne Krawetz (Hebb) who had 1,530 career points. Giannattasio’s 44-point performances this year (Nov. 1 at UBC and Feb. 2 vs. MacEwan) also put her in the Top 4 for conference single game scoring as Calgary’s Meagan Koch has scored 49 and 45 points in 1996 and 1995, respectively, while Simon Fraser’s Teresa Kleindienst had a 45-point performance in 2002 against Trinity Western.

“Amira is an incredibly special player and person,” said Sinclair, who was the first person Giannattasio embraced after stepping off the floor for the last time in her regular season finale. “It was fun to see our other players rallying to help Amira reach the scoring record on Saturday night. We all love her so much and there’s no doubt we will all be fighting to keep this playoff run going for as long as possible for the team, but with Amira and (fellow senior Paige Thomson) in mind for sure.”

Though Giannattasio is certainly the one the Cascades will have to keep on close watch, it has not been without the rest of the team that the Vikes were able to solidify home court advantage for the play-in series. Defensively the team is led by six-foot-one fourth year Katie Langdon who averages 7.2 rebounds per game, while third year Aleah Ashlee and second year Ashlyn Day have also been workhorses under the hoop.

Perhaps the most unexpected boost to the team has been the gritty spirit of point guard Calli McMillan who has stepped up to fill the shoes of the injured Kristy Gallagher this season. McMillan’s control of the floor and, when needed, outside shooting has helped secure important victories down the stretch of the season. Second year Edmonton native Haily Weaver has also found herself on the starting five more times than not as she has been averaging 5.2 rebounds per game. It is the recipe of team chemistry that Sinclair has emphasized all season as the key to their success.

“We’ve learned to play together as a team,” described Sinclair, comparing this season to 2017-18 when the team had majority of its scoring come solely from Giannattasio and Gallagher. “Last season I think we relied too heavily on a couple players to do a lot of the work on the court, whereas this year we have more significant contributions from many different people. When we are at our best, we have multiple players putting up numbers and stats and that makes us harder to scout and play against.”

Looking on the other side of the floor, the Cascades and Vikes have matched up three times this year. In pre-season, the two teams met at the Pandas Invitational and the Vikes prevailed 76-63, while a recent split weekend in the regular season back in January makes it hard to forecast this week’s game. On Jan. 11, Giannattasio and McMillan combined for 34 points to put away Fraser Valley 91-58, while five Cascades shot in double digits to storm back and take a 73-71 win just a night later.

“They are tough and it will be a very competitive game,” said Sinclair of the Cascades. “I think those earlier games help to build familiarity on both sides but as far as past results go, that gets thrown out the window. There will be lots of emotion for sure, but once we settle in to the game it will simply be about which team can come out and perform the best on that night.”

The Cascades finished ranked No. 10 in the conference with a 0.500 record of 10-10. The team is led by fourth year forward Taylor Claggett, who averages 18.4 points per game. Though the offensive power of the Cascades sits in Claggett, the team will need performances from around the floor to find success. Point guard Kate Head’s play-directing skills will need to be coupled with some scoring success, while scoring by committee from Amanda Thompson, Abby Zawada, Madeline Beerwald and Veronica Kobes are also going to be pivotal. The Cascades are led by head coach Al Tuchscerer in his 17th season.

The Vikes will face the Cascades on Friday, Feb. 8 at the CARSA Performance Gym at 7:00 p.m. The game night is supported by the Best Western Plus Carlton Plaza Hotel and will be webcast live on pay-per-view at canadawest.tv while tickets can be purchased online at govikesgo.com/tickets.

Last Match Ups
Jan. 12, 2019: UVIC 71, UFV 73 (2018-19 CW Regular Season)
Jan. 11, 2019: UVIC 91, UFV 58 (2018-19 CW Regular Season)
Oct. 20, 2018: UVIC 75, UFV 63 (2018-19 Pre-Season)
Feb. 9, 2018: UVIC 91, UFV 62 (2017-18 CW Play-in Series)
Oct. 14, 2018: UVIC 58, UFV 41 (2017-18 Pre-Season)
Oct. 13, 2018: UVIC 50, UFV 72 (2017-18 Pre-Season)