VICTORIA – The 2016-17 Vikes women’s basketball schedule that’s set to end with nationals in CARSA will begin with an exhibition game against the NCAA Division I Wisconsin Badgers on Sunday, August 7 at 7:00 p.m. PST.
The Badgers will be a good test for the Vikes, who finished fifth in their division last year and made a run to the Canada West Quarter-Finals in their first year in CARSA. The core of that team will be returning to make another run with the Vikes in 2016-17, and with a spot in the CIS Championship already secured the team can focus on building on last year’s success.
“These are our first practices in August and sometimes it feels like February, especially with our leaders,” said Vikes head coach Dani Sinclair, who is returning for her fourth year at the reigns after serving as an assistant with Canada’s U17 national team over the summer. “They are playing and carrying themselves with a greater sense of urgency and you can see that in everything they’re doing–they’re being vocal, they want to win every drill and every possession.
“I think that usually shows itself in fifth-year players and so we expect a lot from them and we expect them to lead us in every way possible.”
Key starters Jenna Krug, Jenna Bugiardini, Kristy Gallagher and Nicole Karstein are all back and will suit up for the Vikes on Sunday. Karstein led the team’s starters with a field goal percentage of 48% in the regular season while Bugiardini averaged a team-high 16.2 points per game and was rewarded by Canada West as a Second Team All-Star.
Karstein and Bugiardini also chipped in substantially on defence, averaging 7.3 and 9.3 rebounds per game, respectively. The veterans will once again be relied on to be leaders for Victoria’s youth movement, which features heavily on Sunday’s roster with five rookies.
“We want to give an opportunity for everybody for sure,” said Sinclair. “It’s a chance for us to get an early look at how some of those younger players can contribute to our core group. I think the players we brought in have an opportunity to come in and play big roles and they have an opportunity to do that right away.”
While the Vikes are expected to ride the leadership of their core to nationals, the Badgers are starting an exciting era under new head coach Jonathan Tsipis. Tsipis previously coached at Notre Dame and George Washington and inherits a team with six freshmen, two transfers and only three seniors.
The Badgers are coming off five straight losing seasons under former head coach Bobbie Kelsey but have reasons for excitement, and Sinclair and her team know they’re up against a great opponent.
“They’re going to be a tough matchup for sure,” said Sinclair. “They’ll be athletic and big and strong. They’re a bit of an unknown with a new coach and a number of new players but we expect a very good team. They’re a good challenge for us.”
One new face on Wisconsin is Brantford, Ontario, native Kendra Van Leeuwan. The guard was named to the Canadian under-18 national team earlier in August.
Wisconsin will also face UBC and Fraser Valley on their August trip, beginning in Victoria on Sunday and finishing in Abbotsford on Wednesday. With a number of activities planned at their various destinations, the trip promises to be mix of good competition and good times.