Cascades returning to CIS Final Four

A core group of Chilliwack natives leads the University of the Fraser Valley women's basketball team into CIS nationals.

The University of the Fraser Valley women’s basketball team (19-5) hopes the fourth time’s the charm as they head into the 2014 CIS Final Four tournament.

It gets underway today, with UFV taking on the University of Alberta Pandas (22-2) in a tough semi-final draw.

If the Cascades get by the Pandas, they’ll face either the Regina Cougars or Saskatchewan Huskies in the final.

By the same token, a loss would leave them facing one of those two teams in a bronze-medal match.

This is UFV’s fourth consecutive appearance, with four soon-to-be graduating seniors on the roster.

They enter the tournament on a seven game winning streak, which sounds impressive.

But the Pandas haven’t lost since early November, and hold the No. 3 spot in the national rankings. Only the Windsor Lancers and St. Mary’s Huskies are more highly regarded than UFV’s day-one opponent.

The fifth-ranked Cascades played one game against the Pandas early in the season, losing by a sizeable margin (73-61).

They trailed by as many as 20 points in the fourth quarter and will need to play tougher defense, both on the boards and in transition, if they wish to challenge the Pandas.

Alberta starts three players over six feet, with more tree-like players coming off the bench.

The Pandas only have one player among the top 30 in Canada West scoring (Andrea Carlyon at 10.5 points per game), but they roll with a balanced attack that gets the job done.

In that early November game against UFV, Panda point guard Renee Byrne shot four-of-eight from three point land on her way to 17 points.

In game against Regina earlier this season, the Pandas won 59-41 without a single player hitting 10 points.

The Cascades have racked up some impressive wins as well, including last week’s two game playoff demolition of the Calgary Dinos.

UFV will need a strong performance from point guard Aieisha Luyken (Mission).

Ukrainian import Nataliia Gavryliuk has become one of UFV’s leading scorers in the second half of the season.

The Cascades rely on Chilliwack natives for significant contributions.

Kayli Sartori, Nicole Wierks, Sarah Wierks, Alexa McCarthy and Courtney Bartel are all capable of making a difference.

The top two teams  emerging from this tournament will receive an automatic berth to CIS Nationals, while the bronze medal winner will have a chance at a wildcard seed.