Sinclair returns Vikes to Canada West Final Four

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By Ali Lee, Vikes Communications

(ISN) – VICTORIA, B.C. – The University of Victoria Vikes women’s basketball team will be making their 32ndoverall appearance at the Canada West Final Four, while this is their first appearance since 2007. Dani Sinclair (née Everitt) was a member of the last Victoria women’s basketball team to hang a CIS championship banner in the rafters of McKinnon Gym, back in 2003, and now she is one step closer to doing it again but this time as a coach.

This weekend, Mar. 6-7, the Vikes will play the Saskatchewan Huskies in the conference semifinal, hosted at UBC in Vancouver. Victoria and Saskatchewan square off at 8 p.m., while the Thunderbirds will host Alberta at 5 p.m.

The road to the CIS Final 8 has never been easy but the Victoria Vikes program has a storied tradition when it comes to national championship appearances. With nine CIS banners, eight of which came in the great Kathy Shields’ coaching era (1979-99), Victoria is primed to reviving that championship mentality. What better way than to have a former Vike, former national champion, former All-Canadian and student of Shields to lead the way. Sinclair won’t be alone, though, as she has an experienced duo to help get the job done on the floor.

Fifth years Cassandra Goodis and Jessica Renfrew are a large part of the team’s motivation to continue their playoff push. The pair, who started their rookie season together back in 2010, have yet to make it past the opening round of the post-season and that included playing with former Vikes talents such as Debbie Yeboah, Jane Anholt, Kayla Dykstra and Vanessa Forstbauer.

Point guard Goodis and leading scorer Renfrew average close to 30 minutes played per game, while throughout their two grueling playoff series pushed closer to 40 minutes each. After dropping Calgary in back-to-back games, Feb. 20-21, the Vikes advanced to the quarter-finals, where they battled second-for-second with the Thompson Rivers WolfPack on the road. A Shaylyn Crisp three-pointer with two seconds on the clock sealed the Game 3 win that booked the Vikes their spot at this weekend’s Final Four.

Saskatchewan, who finished second in the Pioneer Division in regular season play (17-3), swept Winnipeg by more than a 20-point margin in both games of the quarter-finals. The Huskies’ success has largely been due to the impact of 2014-15 Canada West First Team All-Star Dalyce Emmerson, while third team all-star Laura Dally has also been key.

It is the fourth straight all-star selection for Emmerson, who has also won three Canada West major awards in her career. Dally led the Huskies with 13.6 points per game in the season. The Arts & Science student also led the Canada West in the regular season with a 47.2 three-point percentage. Emmerson averaged 8.8 rebounds per game and a 54 per cent field goal percentage in 2014-15. It will be the seventh appearance in 10 seasons at the conference final tournament.

In regular season play the 13-7 Vikes conceded both games to the Huskies on the road losing 71-62 on Nov. 21 and 89-68 on Nov. 22. This weekend will be a different story as both teams have grown since their first meet up, while playing on neutral territory is always a factor.

Success so far has been driven by the leadership of Sinclair and experience of Goodis and Renfrew but it wouldn’t be right to miss the acknowledgement of the team’s superb supporting cast. Former CIS All-Rookie team member and third-year Vike Jenna Bugiardini continues to be a double-digit scorer and top rebounder for the team, while high school team mate and this year’s Canada West Rookie of the Year Amira Giannattasio continues to improve with every game, ending her first regular season with an average of 12 points per game. Tack on the distance shooting from Crisp, the always-needed energy spark from Jenna Krug, the strength and height of Nicole Karstein and the Vikes appear to have what it takes to continue their play-off run.

The Vikes and Huskies will square off this Friday, Mar. 6 at 8 p.m. at War Memorial Gym in Vancouver, while the Pandas will meet the Thunderbirds at 6 p.m. Both games will be streamed with live video and stats at canadawest.tv. Winners of both conference semifinals will automatically book a ticket to the CIS Final 8, while they will also play for Canada West gold on Mar. 7 at 7 p.m. Losers of Friday’s game will play for bronze at 5 p.m.

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