VICTORIA – A spellbinding 2017-18 season ended in heartbreak for the UVic Vikes women’s basketball team, after they were defeated 80-61 by the Calgary Dinos in Game 2 of the Canada West quarter-finals on Feb. 17.
Initially pegged as the ninth-best team in the conference according to the Canada West coaches pre-season poll, a young Vikes squad – that featured no fifth-year players and just two fourth-years – more than exceeded expectations, rattiling off 13 wins in a row to end their regular season with the third-best record in the conference.
“I’m really proud of our girls,” said Vikes head coach Dani Sinclair. “The stretch that they had over the last few months is not diminished by these losses. The playoffs are a different season and we weren’t successful in our goal of moving on, but I’m really proud of the run that they made.”
A team that looked shell-shocked during a 105-49 loss to Calgary to start the series on Friday night, fought until the bitter end on Saturday, but were ultimately unable to overcome a ferocious Dinos defence that forced them into committing 32 turnovers in the game,
“At the end of the day that was a pretty devastating punch in the face for us last night and I thought our girls responded well, they came out playing gritty and tough, they did everything they could,” said Sinclair. “In the first half we had total control in almost every category but we turned the ball over 20 times. Just when we would start to cut into the lead we would give up another turnover and that hurt us a lot.”
Bobbi-Jo Colbourn scored a game-high 22 points for the Dinos, while Shannon Hatch and Katie Upham added 12 and 11 respectively.
One of the keys of the game was shooting beyond-the-arc, the Vikes hit just 14 per cent of their shots from three point land and the Dinos connected on a staggering 52 per cent of their long-range attempts.
“Tons of credit to Calgary, they were the better team,” said Sinclair. “They executed better than we did, they made layups, got the loose balls and forced turnovers from us.”
Aleah Ashlee scored a season-high 16 points, while also pulling down eight rebounds to lead the Vikes. First-years Haily Weaver and Ashlyn Day ended their rookie campaigns playing large roles on the court.
Weaver put up six points and nine rebounds in her 30 minutes of action. Day meanwhile, ended her season with three blocks, three assists and six rebounds while playing a team-high 31 minutes.
“We were asking Haily and Ashlyn to come in and do so much for us and they did, they stepped up, were so good this weekend and they will continue to get better,” said Sinclair.
While the season may have ended in disappointment with a pair of tough losses in Calgary, the focus for the youthful team has already shifted towards what promises to be an exciting future.
“You don’t want the disappointment, losing sucks, but unless you win the national championship there is going to be heartbreak along the way for every team,” said Sinclair. “We are in a unique situation where we have the chance to bring everybody back, but the key for us is to not be stagnant and stay in the same place, if we do that then we are falling behind.
“We need to take this and use it as motivation to be better.”
With just over eight months until the beginning of the 2018-19 Canada West schedule, the hard work for the Vikes begins now as they being the process that will bring them back to quarter-finals and beyond.
“The special thing about Amira Giannattasio and Kristy Gallagher is that they won’t stay in the same place, they’ll continue to get better,” said Sinclair of her fourth-year standouts. “Aleah, Calli McMillan and everybody down the line will improve, that’s what made this such a special group this year, they were gritty, fought for each other and my hope is that they continue to do that through the off-season.
“We can have a typical summer where we sort of get better, or we can really get after it and be on a mission.”