Looking ahead at the CanWest Women’s Basketball Season

TORONTO, ON – Another exciting season in Canada West Women’s Basketball is set to begin. On Thursday, October 28th, Trinity Western travels to UBC to kick off the 2021-2022 season after a long wait throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. The reigning Canada West champion Saskatchewan Huskies start their season on Friday, October 29th, with the runner-up Alberta Golden Bears and Pandas starting their season the following week hosting Lethbridge. Let’s take a look at who to watch for this upcoming season, starting with the reigning champs.

Saskatchewan Huskies

U Sports Final 8: Saskatchewan Huskies tops in women's basketball | The  Star Phoenix

They’ve won 5 of the last 7 Canada West championships. Led by Lisa Thomaidis, they’ve associated themselves with greatness in U SPORTS women’s basketball, and they look to make the trend continue this season. The Huskies have a core group of their 2019 championship team returning for the 2021 season.

Katriana Philipenko, a phenomenal shooter for the Huskies, enters her 3rd year of eligibility and, alongside Libby Epoch and Carly Ahlstrom, forms a trio of veteran guards to lean on this season. Katriana, who shot 41% from the field and 39% from the perimeter in 2019, will be a player to watch for the Huskies. Another player to watch is first-year forward Tea Demong who has looked great in preseason and provides a physical presence inside for the Huskies both on the boards and offensively.

Calgary Dinos

Calgary Dinos vs. Alberta Pandas; Feb. 1, 2020
(Calgary Dinos)

Calgary had a strong showing in their 2019 season, finishing 2nd in Canada West and winning the consolation final of the U SPORTS National Championship. They also have a great core of returning players coached by Damian Jennings. With an 18-2 conference record in 2019, the Dinos proved themselves as one of the dominant teams in Canada West, and they’ll look to do the same this season.

The Dinos will be a tough matchup for most teams trying to stall their offence with five veteran guards on their roster. With Reyna Crawford looking like she will be leading the charge, the Dinos offence, which uses off-ball movement and seeing the floor to find passes inside, is in good hands. As the season goes on and the starting five gets more repetitions together, this team will only get better, and it’s not much of a gamble to say we’ll see the Dinos towards the end of this season making another push.

Alberta Pandas

(Alberta Pandas)

The runners-up, Alberta, finished the 2019 season with a 16-4 conference record, tied with UBC and UFV for 3rd in the conference. They took down UFV and Calgary in the quarterfinal and semi-final of the Canada West playoffs before falling to Saskatchewan in the final and losing to Laval and Carleton in the U SPORTS national championship.

Alberta is a quick team, and they’ve shown that in the preseason. Getting up the court fast and always looking for outlet passes, they are a team that you have to get home against and try and pick off some of those transition opportunities. Whether units can shut down their ability to use screens to find a lane to the hoop is yet to be seen, but this fast-paced Pandas squad now looks like they have what it takes to come out of the season as one of the top teams in Canada West once again.

UBC Thunderbirds

Ryann Kristmanson
(UBC Thunderbirds)

The Thunderbirds are another 16-4 team looking to leap forward this season when they start their season on Saturday, October 30th, against Victoria. With a couple of transfers at the guard position, the new look Thunderbirds, coached by Erin McAleenan, who came over from the York Lions, will try and be there when the Canada West season concludes.

Their play in 2019 focused on using ball movement to find 1on1 matchups to attack. They would often swing the ball from side to side to try and find an entry into the post or a split second where their guards could attack the rim. Feeding the ball to 6’6 forward Olivia Morgan-Cherchas from Kamloops BC, who is entering her 2nd year of eligibility, might be an answer for the Thunderbirds looking to find an entry to the paint will present a size mismatch for many teams. Third-year guard Hailey Counsell finished 3rd on the team in scoring in 2019 with 9.7 points per game on 34 percent shooting and starting 13 of 20 games.

UFV Cascades

Nikki Cabuco
(UFV Cascades)

Fraser Valley finished the 2019 season fifth in Canada West with a 16-4 record, tied with UBC and Calgary. Under the coaching of Al Tuchscherer, the Cascades have strong pieces throughout their roster. After a year of prep like every Canada West team, seeing what they accomplish throughout the 2021 season will be interesting.

This year, a big name for the Cascades has to be forward Deanna Tuchscherer, who started all 20 games in her 2019 season and put up an impressive 15 points per game, six rebounds per game, and two assists per game. She lit up the Canada West on her way to earning a Third Team All-Star nod, and with another year under her belt, she’s a player to watch. Maddy Gobeil starts her second year at the helm of the Cascades on-court play, and with their offence that looks to keep passing until they find enough space to shoot or post up, the Cascades play should only improve from 2019. They should once again be near the top of Canada West in February when the playoffs are near.

Winnipeg Wesmen

Robyn Boulanger had 15 points and hit three three-pointers in a win over UBCO in Kelowna, B.C. on Friday, October 22, 2021. (David Larkins/Wesmen Athletics file)
(Winnipeg Wesmen)

Winnipeg finished just outside the top 5, with a 12-8 record and finishing the year with back-to-back losses to UBC. Coached by Tanya McKay, the Wesmen finished 12th in rebounds per game and 25th in FG%, showing a need for improvement in the high percentage shots and rebounds.

Throughout the preseason, Kyanna Giles, a redshirt guard, has been giving the Wesmen that consistency from close range and the presence on the boards, and she looks like a standout player as the season gets started. Alongside her, Faith Hezekiah, a 5th year forward, has made quite an impact throughout preseason action. She is another physical presence for the Wesmen who can take advantage of mismatches in the paint and solidify the Wesmens rebounding and second-chance opportunities. Lastly, 2019 CW All-Rookie Anna Kernaghan is someone fans should pay attention to as she tries to build off her impressive rookie season.

Victoria Vikes

Aleah Ashlee

The Vikes underwent a coaching change as their long-time coach took over for the Carleton Ravens. Victoria finished 12-8 in 2019, just under Winnipeg in the standings. Like the Wesmen, UVic has a returning star from the 2019 season in Ashlyn Day, who was awarded a Second Team All-Star spot after shooting 44% and averaging 16 points and four rebounds as the Vikes starting guard.

Ashlyn should again see a prominent role in the Vikes play this season along with 2nd-year guard Tana Pankrantz who saw a lot of action in the preseason. In their game against Alberta, she was the focal point of the offence, involved in many sets with screening, facilitating for cutters and post feeds, and spacing for drives.

The Vikes are a team fans should keep an eye on this season as they look to take advantage of their experience and intelligent decision-making to cause problems for teams.

Manitoba Bisons

Bisons WM BB D Bartlett
(Manitoba Bisons)

The Bisons are another team to watch for this season and the last to mention for this preview. Though they finished the 2019 season 9-11, led by 5th-year guard Taylor Randall and coached by Michele Sung, the Bisons have the personnel to continue to grow, and Lauren Bartlett may provide that spark as she steps into more of a veteran role.

Lauren was a CW All-Rookie in 2019, and for a good reason. Her speed and ability to see the floor were on display all season as she blew by defenders and got the ball to open shooters quickly. Averaging 10 points and three assists, Lauren immediately impacted the league, and as she gains more experience playing in the Canada West, that should only grow. The Bison’s play should only improve with an offence that used a lot of drive and kick opportunities, taking a spot-up shot 25% of the time, led by her speed and ability to get the ball where it needs to go quickly. This program will be one that will make a jump this year as they build towards being a top team.

Get Ready!

The season is less than 24 hours from starting, teams have waited months for this opportunity after being held off the court through the 2020 school year, and the anticipation is at an all-time high. Women’s Basketball returns to Canada West, and it’s time to see which teams will come out on top. Will Saskatchewan continue its dynasty in Women’s Basketball, will Calgary or Alberta make the final push to the top of the mountain, or will a team like UBC use their consistency to come out on top. Get ready for another year of the best women’s basketball athletes taking the floor in Canada.

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