VICTORIA – It has been an up and down season for the University of Victoria Vikes men’s basketball team, who capped their Canada West regular season with a split 10-10 record to secure one of the last three spots in the playoffs. The Vikes will travel to play the Lethbridge Pronghorns on Feb. 8 for a single knock-out play-in series game at 7:00 p.m. PT.
The Vikes finished the regular season as the No. 10-ranked team with an RPI of 0.503, while the Horns were No. 7 with an RPI of 0.528 and record of 12-8. Looking at recent match ups a visiting game in Lethbridge could be quite the feat for the Vikes, who lost 84-65 and 82-66 in Jan. 18-19 regular season games.
Despite the recent records, the team was without fifth-year point guard Mason Loewen, who was injured in the Vikes’ Jan. 4 opener for 2019. Loewen’s injury was one of many that has had Vikes head coach Craig Beaucamp reaching deeper and deeper in to his bench. In September the team was without fifth year and six-foot-six forward Jake Newman but since his return in November has been a key part of the Vikes’ defence and offence. The team was forced to play games at some point without third-year transfer Carlos Costa, former Canada West Rookie of the Year Scott Kellum as well as third year Jason Scully, while Graeme Hyde-Lay has also recently been sidelined.
“We were just in Lethbridge a couple of weeks ago, so we are happy to return to a familiar gymnasium and environment,” said Vikes five-time Canada West Coach of the Year Beaucamp. “Our team has stuck together throughout all of our injuries and many have stepped up with their best performances. I think it has galvanized the team.”
With the mix of bodies on any given night the Vikes have had to be creative. There are, however, two players who have played all 20 games this season and their presence is a big part of the team’s ability to get to where they are. Fifth-year guard Jordan Charles’ character, work ethic and scoring percentage has provided the foundation for the Vikes, while the energized play and outside shooting from Taylor Montgomery-Stinson has also been a stake in the ground.
Breakout performances from Aaron Tesfagiorgis have sparked the Vikes a few times this season when needed, while as the team started to head down the stretch the strength of Loewen, Newman, Charles, Kellum and Montgomery-Stinson started to show old signs of Beaucamp’s previous squads that made it to the national championship three-straight seasons (2012 to 2015). Charles was a part of two of those championship qualifying sides, while the most recent Vikes lineups have lost in the play-in series for the past two seasons.
“Mason brings some quickness and athleticism back to our lineup and he has the ability to create for others,” added Beaucamp on his fifth-year seniors. “Jake is playing his best basketball right now and has been a leader on and off the court. Jordan has been one of the only players who has not missed a game due to injury and he has consistently provided us the scoring and rebounding we need. He attracts a lot of attention from the opposing teams.”
The Pronghorns have been led by a strong group of seniors including six-foot-eight guard Zac Overwater and six-foot-four forward Mike Pierzchala. Overwater has averaged 19.1 points per game and 7.8 rebounds per game, while Pierzchala averages 15 points per game and 5.4 rebounds per game. Overwater put away 44 points over two games against the Vikes on Jan. 18-19. The Pronghorns also have a familiar face in fourth year Kyle Peterson, who previously started as point guard for the Vikes in the first two years the Vikes returned to the national championship (2012-13 and 2013-14) since 2006.
Lethbridge also rely heavily on third-year guard Colton Gibb (12.7 PPG), and Eric Pierce (12.3 PPG), who will be big contributors in both ends of the court.
Prior to the 2018-19 season the Vikes last matched up in the Canada West Play-in Series, a best-of-three series at the time, in 2016-17. The Pronghorns put away the Vikes in the first two games at home by scores of 97-85 and 94-85. The teams also duked it out in the regular season with the Pronghorns also being victorious in the road sweep. The last time the Vikes have beat the Pronghorns in Canada West play was a weekend sweep at the McKinnon Gym Jan. 30-31, 2015, also the same season the Vikes last won a Canada West title.
“We need to play together both on offence and on defence because collectively we are a tough out,” reinforced Beaucamp. “We want to prepare like any other game and focus on giving our best effort. It is the only quality that we can control. If we do that, it should be a very competitive game.”