Women’s basketball team ready to shoot for gold at PACWEST finals

After two straight silver medals, the Blues are hoping that the third time is the charm


Having taken home silver medals at the Pacific Western Athletic Association (PACWEST)’s provincial tournament the past two years, the Capilano University Blues women’s basketball team is ready for gold.

Over the past five seasons, the women’s basketball team has become an elite force in the PACWEST. But they have yet to secure a provincial title and advance to the Canadian Collegiate Athletic Association (CCAA)’s national tournament with their current squad. “We’ve been knocking at the door for a few years,” said Assistant Coach Chris Weimer.

After losing last year’s provincial finals to the Douglas College Royals, the Blues came into this year with a rejuvenated focus and some additions to their roster, most notably fourth-year forward, Emma Cunningham, who transferred from Camosun College. Along with the new season came a slightly altered Blues team. They’ve been known for their defensive prowess in the past, but the women added a deadly attack to this year’s repertoire.

By the end of the regular PACWEST season, the women were ranked first in the league in total points scored, points per game, shots made per game and field goal percentage. Additionally, they were second in three pointers made and three-point percentage.

However, statistics don’t matter if you lose. While the team’s numbers portray an unforgettable season, it all comes down to this weekend. Due to their second-place finish, the Blues secured a first round bye, meaning they won’t play until Friday, Mar. 2. Their semi-final matchup will be against the winner between the Vancouver Island University Mariners and Quest University Kermodes game. And while the women are preparing for either team, they expect their playoffs to open with a game against the VIU Mariners, who would have the home-court advantage. “We’ve got to take care of our boards against VIU and then we’ve got to shoot the ball very well against them because they’re heavy inside,” Cunningham said.

(Left to right) forward Carmelle M’Bikata, guard Ashley dela Cruz Yip and guard Sherrie Errico react to the score in a recent Capilano Blues home game. Photo c/o Vancouver Sports Pictures

As much as the team is preparing for their opponents, they’re focusing just as much, if not more, on preparing themselves. “A struggle this season has been communicating and just really gritty work ethic,” said fifth-year team captain, Ashley dela Cruz Yip. “I think this year in the playoffs it’s really about elevating our level of communication, elevating our work ethic, making sure that we’re working hard every possession and focusing on our strengths.”

Weimer explained that the team hasn’t changed their practices much, other than shortening them to allow players some rest at the end of an exhausting season, and is focusing on the same things they have all year. “I don’t think we need to do too much, we just need to play our own game,” he said. “The girls are prepared, they know what to do, it’s just a matter of putting it all together at the right time. Play within yourself, trust the stuff that we’ve worked on all year, a lot of these girls have worked on that stuff for three of four years.”

Carmelle M’Bikata will be another key to the team’s success. As last year’s PACWEST Player of the Year, she has followed up to the unforgettable season with another monster year. She’s first in the league in points per game, averaging 13.8, and is second in total rebounds and field goal percentage, making her an all-around threat. No matter which team they face, M’Bikata will undoubtedly be a key player, but if things go the way the team predicts them to, she’ll become even more important.

If all goes as expected, the Blues will face the Mariners in the semi-final game, then the Royals in the finals – both teams bolster sizable lineups, making M’Bikata’s presence inside that much more important.

With the gold medal match taking place on Saturday, Mar. 2, the Blues expect to be playing in the 8 p.m. final. Although the provincials are notoriously unpredictable, the women believe they’re most likely to meet the Royals once again. “We don’t want to look too far ahead, but if I did have to pick a team that was likely to get there on the other side it would be Douglas,” Weimer said. The Royals have been a bit of a kryptonite for the Blues over the past few years, something the players and coaches attribute to a mental block more than anything else.

“It’s definitely a mental game with Douglas. It’s not like we can’t shoot or play defence or what not, it’s literally some mental block that we need to just clear,” M’Bikata said. But, the team isn’t shying away from this block. “If we see them we see them. I’ve talked to our team about kind of changing our mentality when we play them,” dela Cruz Yip said. “It’s weird, I honestly don’t think they’re a better team than us, but I think that we break down when we play them, we’re not a cohesive unit.”

This year’s provincials have an extra meaning for the Blues as well. These will be the last PACWEST games ever played by dela Cruz Yip, M’Bikata and guard Francis Penafiel, all of whom are in their final year of eligibility. “As much as I want to win it, I’m hoping, for those guys, to get it done, it would be awesome,” said Weimer. The players themselves aren’t immune to the emotional ending to their careers either. “I see us in the final and this whole semester, this whole season, I’ve had this vision of us winning and then me crying of how happy I am,” said dela Cruz Yip. “I haven’t had that kind of emotion in a win in a really long time.”

No matter who they end up playing, the team is more confident than ever. “This team is really good. I haven’t been on a team where I’ve felt all of us present and it’s the championship team – this is the team. We just all have to believe in it and buy in,” said dela Cruz Yip. “I’ve envisioned it a lot and I see us holding a banner at the end of the week,” Cunningham added.

The Blues are just two wins away from achieving their goal of a gold medal and a berth into the national tournament. “I’m expecting gold,” said M’Bikata.

The PACWEST women’s basketball provincials will be taking place between Mar. 1 and 3 at N VIU.

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