After a 2015-16 Canadian Interuniversity Sports championship win, the Huskies women’s basketball team fell in the 2016- 17 national championship quarter-final. However, the group still managed to win their second consecutive Canada West Conference title.
The team enters this season ranked second in the Canada West pre-season coaches’ poll and will chase after the Regina Cougars, who will be hosting the Women’s National Championship on their home floor come March.
Last season, a revitalized starting lineup with only one returning starter, Sabine Dukate, was headlined by then first-year point guard Libby Epoch, who started 19 out of 20 games in her rookie season. The freshman led the team in minutes per game, as well as assists.
Epoch spent her summer with the Canadian U19 Women’s National Team, alongside teammate Summer Masikewich, where the team brought home a bronze medal. Head Coach Lisa Thomaidis will be counting on Epoch to run the offence once again this season.
The 2017-18 group will look remarkably similar to last season’s team, as the Huskies only lost one player when Sascha Lichtenwald transferred to the University of Calgary. Entering the program this year are two prized hometown recruits, Katriana Philipenko and Kyla Shand. Philipenko and Shand both attended Holy Cross High School in Saskatoon, where they won four city championships with the Crusaders.
The women’s team got off to a strong start this season, sweeping the Manitoba Bisons in two games from Oct. 27-28.
Meanwhile, the men’s team brings a different set of expectations. After dropping the bronze medal game in last year’s Canada West Final Four, the team has recruited seven new players.
The men’s team opens the season ranked 11th in the Canada West pre-season coaches’ poll. The Dogs will look to use that as motivation as the season begins.
Lawrence Moore returns to the program after arriving late last season and will be relied on heavily as a scorer. Moore is a 6-2 guard from Chicago, Illinois, who showcased his offensive prowess during the Graham Shootout when he dropped 37 points against the Mount Royal Cougars.
We can also expect to see a lot of second-year guard Emmanuel Akintunde if the Huskies pre-season lineup indicates anything about the team’s strategy. Akintunde averaged 33.8 minutes per game during the exhibition campaign and will be counted on to replace the production of talented guard Chan De Ciman, who will be missing from the court indefinitely due to a shoulder injury.
Akintunde explains that he will use his rookie season as a learning experience.
“Last season taught me that every team in this league is super competitive and they all thrive to be the best that they can. At this level, you can never take plays off, [because] that could be the difference between wins and losses,” Akintunde said.
Along with Moore and Akintunde, Alex Unruh will see key minutes in the backcourt, serving as the lone fifth-year player. Although Unruh will be a leader for the young team, he clearly remembers being a younger player himself.
“It’s a little strange being a fifth-year guy, when it seems like not that long ago I was a first-year guy trying to find my way on the team,” Unruh said.
The local point guard speaks about what he expects from the team this season.
“Being a young team means there will be a little bit of a learning curve for us, especially since we’re changing up our style of play from how we have played in the past,” Unruh said. “With that being said, we still feel like we have a talented roster that will continue to get better as the year goes on and [will] hopefully [peak] come playoff time.”
After the men’s team plays an international exhibition game in Montana, both the women’s and men’s teams will host Thompson Rivers at the PAC on Nov. 10 and 11.
Photos: Katherine Fedoroff