Kaitlyn MacDonald’s (right) continued development would be huge for a University of the Fraser Valley womens’ basketball squad with big expectations.

Kaitlyn MacDonald’s (right) continued development would be huge for a University of the Fraser Valley womens’ basketball squad with big expectations.

Chilliwack-powered Cascades ready to roll

Long-range bomber Kaitlyn MacDonald is joined by Kayli Sartori and Shayna Cameron as UFV eyes a return to basketball playoff glory.

The University of the Fraser Valley women’s basketball team embarks on the 2015-16 Canada West regular season with a new-look roster, but one that has the talent to make a deep run in the Canada West playoffs.

“It’s a different team, with a lot of toughness and athleticism to it,” analyzed Cascades head coach Al Tuchscherer, whose program has earned conference playoff berths each of the past five years and made four straight Canada West Final Four appearances between 2011 and 2014. “They’re skilled, and they play with a lot of determination. You combine those things, and this team could make some noise in Canada West.”

UFV’s first regular season basketball games of the campaign run Friday at 6 p.m. and Saturday at 5 p.m. — both games versus the UBC Okanagan Heat at Abbotsford’s Envision Athletic Centre.

The Cascades women’s squad has waved goodbye to a handful of impact players including Chilliwack’s Sarah Wierks (a second team All-Canadian in 2014-15 who led the CIS in rebounding and was fourth in scoring).

Celeste Dyck (10.9 points and a team-high 4.3 assists per game), and Nataliia Gavryliuk (13.1 points per game) have also departed.

But Tuchscherer has no shortage of talent to work with this season. Fourth-year power forward Katie Brink is the most accomplished returnee from last year’s squad – her 14.8 points per game ranked second on the Cascades in 2014-15.

The Abbotsford product finished the year strong with 11 straight double-digit scoring performances, including five outings of 20-plus points.

Brink will be reunited this season with her former high school teammate, Chilliwackian Kayli Sartori – the two players were part of the W.J. Mouat Hawks’ B.C. AAA high school championship-winning squad in 2011.

Sartori suited up for the Cascades for three seasons before electing to take last season off to work on her family’s farm. She’s back this fall, and has been an impact player throughout the preseason.

“Katie and Kayli have experienced a lot of success together – they’ve won championships and been key to some of our past success,” Tuchscherer enthused. “They lead us competitively, they play a physical brand of basketball and they’re highly skilled.”

The Cascades are also welcoming a pair of high-profile transfers in Shayna Cameron (formerly of Quest University) and Sydney Williams (Thompson Rivers University).

Chilliwack product Cameron spent four seasons at Quest was named the PacWest female athlete of the year across all sports in 2014-15. Williams, who hails from Langley, was the Canada West rookie of the year with the TRU WolfPack in 2013-14. Both Cameron and Williams are guards.

Knockdown three-point shooter Kaitlyn McDonald (Chilliwack) and defensive standout Hailey Kendall will also be key members of the Cascades’ backcourt, while rookies Taylor Claggett and Kate Head have worked their way into the rotation with outstanding preseasons. Claggett, a forward out of Abbotsford’s Mennonite Educational Institute, posted double-doubles in two of the Cascades’ last three non-conference games, and Maple Ridge Secondary product Head has earned the starting point guard spot.

“Perhaps our most pleasing part about our exhibition schedule has been the play of those two freshmen,” Tuchscherer said. “Playing at highly demanding positions at point guard and centre, and really stepping up and exceeding my expectations for what they were going to bring to the table this season.”