Cascades weekend preview: Wrestlers host first Canada West home meet, hoopsters hit the road

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Wrestling Golden Bears Classic sliderIt’s an exciting week for the University of the Fraser Valley’s fledgling wrestling program, as they hold their first-ever Canada West home tournament.


The Cascades Classic takes over the Envision Athletic Centre on Sunday, Feb. 1, with roughly 130 wrestlers in attendance from across Western Canada.

Raj Virdi, who serves as co-coach of the Cascades alongside Arjan Bhullar, said he’s looking forward to showcasing his program to the UFV community, and introducing UFV to the other Canada West teams.

“We’re really excited for it,” said Virdi, who is anticipating competitors from the other five Canada West programs – the Calgary Dinos, Alberta Golden Bears/Pandas, Saskatchewan Huskies, Regina Cougars and Winnipeg Wesmen – plus wrestlers from the NCAA Div. 2 Simon Fraser Clan.

“It’ll be a good tournament, because you’ll see a lot of club guys wrestle as well, guys who are on the national team.”

The Cascades have attained terrific success in their first year in Canada West. On Jan. 10, in just their second official conference tournament, the men’s team won the Golden Bear Open in Edmonton highlighted by individual gold medals from Aso Palani (61 kg), Jasmit Phulka (82 kg) and Manheet Kalhon (120 kg). Just over a week later, the Cascades men moved up to the No. 1 spot in the CIS national rankings.

“It was a surprise,” admitted Chanmit Phulka, who won a silver medal at 100 kg at the Golden Bear Open. “We didn’t think we’d be ranked No. 1, because we’d only been to two tournaments and we haven’t competed against any teams from the East yet.

“But rankings are just rankings. Come the Canada West and the CIS (championships), that’s what really matters.”

Virdi attributed the Cascades wrestling program’s rapid ascent to the fact that the Fraser Valley is fertile soil for the sport.

“The grassroots of wrestling in the Lower Mainland are really strong, and that’s because of the local clubs, especially in the Fraser Valley,” he said. “We were able to recruit a lot of the athletes from the area. I would give it to a lot of the clubs who have worked with these kids for so long, and we’ve been able to take them to tournaments and we’ve seen progress. I’d say all of them have evolved as wrestlers.”

The Cascades Classic begins at 9 a.m. on Sunday and runs until roughly 2 p.m. – plenty of time for sports fans to make their way back home to catch the opening kickoff of the Super Bowl.

“It’s coming down pretty close to Canada West and CIS (championships), so this will be the last chance for us to showcase our athletes and see where we really are,” Virdi noted. “We’ll see how we do. We won the Golden Bear – we’d like to win at home as well.”

Men’s hoopsters aim to extend win streak

The Cascades men’s basketball team puts its 28-game Canada West regular season winning streak on the line this weekend, as they visit the Mount Royal Cougars for a Saturday-Sunday set in Calgary.

Head coach Adam Friesen’s squad, which hasn’t dropped a game in conference play since November 2013, boasts an unblemished 14-0 record this season and sits No. 8 in the CIS national rankings. They have a chance to clinch first place in the Explorer Division this weekend – all they need is one win, either Saturday (7 p.m. tip-off, all times Pacific) or Sunday (4 p.m.). The games can be streamed live online at ufv.canadawest.tv.

They’ll be facing a Mount Royal squad which desperately needs wins to keep their playoff hopes afloat. The Cougars (6-8) lost twice last weekend to the UNBC Timberwolves (7-7), who leapfrogged them in the race for the third and final Explorer Division playoff spot.

“They’ve always battled us really hard,” Friesen said of the Cougars. “We expect them to come out and play really hard, and we’ve got to try our best to match that.”

The Cascades have five players who average double-figure scoring, led by swingman Kevon Parchment (14.9) and power forward Nate Brown (13.9), while fifth-year centre Jasper Moedt ranks second in the conference in rebounding at 10.6 points per game. The Cougars are led by fourth-year forward James Lefebvre, who paces the team in scoring (12.6) and rebounding (6.9).

Cascades women can clinch playoff berth

It’s a huge weekend for the UFV women’s basketball team (8-6), who can lock up a post-season berth if they sweep the weekend against Mount Royal (5-9).

Games run Saturday (5 p.m.) and Sunday (2 p.m.) in Calgary, and can be streamed live at ufv.canadawest.tv.

“We just want to keep getting better every weekend,” Cascades head coach Al Tuchscherer said. “Mount Royal’s in fourth place, and they’re a team that could catch us, so it’s important that we’re taking care of business against them this weekend.”

The Cascades and Cougars played in Abbotsford earlier this month, with UFV prevailing by scores of 85-58 and 81-67. But both nights, Mount Royal’s withering full-court pressure took some time for the Cascades to acclimatize themselves to.

“In spite of the score last time we played them, they caused a lot of problems for us, particularly with their full-court pressure, and we’re going to have to be a lot better dealing with that this weekend,” Tuchscherer said.

“We’ve seen that the whole second half, though – everybody’s pressing us like crazy. Hopefully we’re learning something about how to handle that pressure. You have to be ready right from the start of the game to handle that pace, and if not, you’ll be on your heels for the rest of the game.”

Reigning Canada West and CIS female athlete of the week Sarah Wierks leads the conference (and the nation) in rebounding at 14.5 per game, and is second in Canada West in scoring at 19.9 points per game. Nataliia Gavryliuk (14.6 points), Katie Brink (11.7) and Celeste Dyck (10.2) also average double-figure scoring for the Cascades. Jayla Verney is Mount Royal’s top scoring threat – she’s averaging 15.1 points per game, good for seventh in the conference.

Note: The Cascades volleyball teams are on a bye week, and return to PacWest action Feb. 6-7 with road games in Cranbrook vs. the College of the Rockies Avalanche.