Vancouver, BC – Deb Huband, the all-time winningest coach in Canada West history, is set for her 20th season at the helm of the UBC Thunderbirds women’s basketball program and this year has a group of players with the potential to win the Bronze Baby as CIS National Champions. Under Huband’s guidance UBC has won three national titles (2004, 2006, 2008) and last was in the CIS final in 2012.
“Our potential is greater then it has been in the last couple of years,” said Huband. “We have not only more depth this season, but our overall level of play has increased. Part of that is the coming of age of our group with more players being in their third, fourth, and fifth years, but it is also the injection of two standout players who bring their experience and veteran status to the group.”
Those two standout players are former NCAA Division 1 players Diana Lee and Kara Spotton. Lee joins the Thunderbirds after graduating from Boise State University. She started three seasons for the Broncos at point guard before red-shirting her final season due to a back injury. She returns to her home province, joining former Handsworth high school teammate Kris Young. The two won back-to-back BC High School ‘AAA” Provincial Championships in 2009 and 2010.
Spotton meanwhile, was born in Ontario but grew up in Colorado, played two seasons for the Colorado State Rams. She started 13 games for the Rams over her career and averaged 5.0 points and 2.6 rebounds in her final season and like Lee has a connection to Young. The two played on the Canadian National Development team together in 2013, representing Canada at the 2013 FISU Games in Russia.
“Anytime you can bring in experienced, skilled, competitive players to your roster, it injects depth and leadership,” said Huband. “Diana is a feisty, verbal leader on the floor that helps us execute better at both ends of floor. Kara is a very versatile player who can play inside and out and is a tough competitor who gets after rebounds and guards with intensity.”
Of course Young, a two-time CIS All-Canadian and the Canada West Player of the Year in 2013, remains the key piece to the Thunderbirds line up. The North Vancouver, BC product has developed into the one of the top players in the country and has been a mainstay in UBC’s starting line up since stepping on to campus back in 2010. Last year she averaged 17.5 points per game and 6.6 rebounds a game.
Fellow fifth-year player Harleen Sidhu burst onto the CIS scene last year, averaging 14.6 points per game and 8.3 rebounds after transfering from the University of Nebraska. Her low-post game causes the opposition fits and just for fun isn’t afraid to step back and knock down a three pointer.
“We like to mould ourselves after the San Antonio Spurs model in the sense we are a well balanced team focused on team goals as opposed to individual goals,” said Huband. “Everyone of our players understands in order for us to be successful everybody needs to fill a role and from night to night, depending on the circumstances, that roll can change.”
Fourth-year players Cassandra Knievel, Adrienne Parkin, and Stephanie Bell are part of the core group that will be expected to contribute on a nightly basis. All have the ability to be game changers whether it be on the offensive end, working hard on the boards, or playing shutdown defence.
Second-year guard Cherub Lum provides depth and gives the Thunderbirds options offensively, taking pressure off Lee to be the primary point guard. Other depth players up front include third-year players Susan Thompson and Andrea Strujic, fourth-year Lauren Seabrook, and first-year player Kamila Wojciechowski, who missed all of last season due to injury.
“It’s all about the bigger picture,” said Huband. “Our players take great pride in wearing the Thunderbirds uniform and understand our tradition and desire to pursue excellence and to be among the top teams in the CIS. We want to measure ourselves against the best in the country and these girls are working very hard on a daily basis in hopes of achieving the ultimate goal.”
Huband expects five or six teams to be in the mix come playoff time in the Canada West including Alberta, Saskatchewan, Winnipeg, and of course the Thunderbirds arch rivals, Victoria. This season the conference has been divided into two divisions, Pioneers and Explorers. UBC falls into the Pioneers division and will only play regular season games within its own division, meaning its a return to back to back games against the same team format each weekend.
For Huband, who won her 400th career game last season, passion for the game, a competitive spirit, and striving for excellence is what drives her on a daily basis. She continues to push her players to be the best and she expects the exact same from herself.
“It is really rewarding working in a team atmosphere with young people,” said Huband. “My goal is to help our players maximize their potential in a competitive and challenging environment. I feel very fortunate to be an university coach where you see athletes come in at 17, 18 years of age with eyes wide open and then leave with an experienced perspective on life and more skilled to go on to the next phase of their lives.”
The Thunderbirds finished the exhibition schedule 7-1 and are ranked No. 2 in the country in the CIS preseason poll.