A bittersweet farewell: Blues women’s basketball’s fifth years go out on top

A bittersweet farewell: Blues women’s basketball’s fifth years go out on top

JUSTIN SCOTT // MANAGING EDITOR

Over the past several years, the Capilano University Blues women’s basketball team developed into a bit of a dynasty. Since 2010, they’ve taken home six Pacific Western Athletic Association (PACWEST) medals, including their second gold this season. It’s no coincidence that the core team members from this span were all in their final year of eligibility this year. “It was like, ‘okay guys, this is our last chance, we have to do it, there’s no excuses,’ and I think we just dominated it,” said Francis Penafiel, one of three players who were in their last year of play. The Blues will also be saying farewell to Carmelle M’Bikata and Ashley dela Cruz Yip, two of the most storied and accoladed players in Blues Athletics history.

Although the three have become more than teammates over their time as Blues student athletes, they’ve all had vastly different careers.

M’Bikata came to CapU in 2012 from Abbotsford’s WJ Mouat Secondary School and instantly had an impact on the team. “She’s probably one of the best players I’ve ever seen from six feet in,” said assistant voach Chris Weimer. He recalled how she came in as a rookie and immediately established herself as a presence in the paint.

M’Bikata quickly asserted herself as one of the most dominant players in the league, and has the numbers and awards to prove it. She has the most rebounds and points in Blues history and has received awards such as the Blues Female Athlete of the Year, PACWEST Player of the Year, Canadian Collegiate Athletic Association (CCAA) All Canadian, PACWEST Provincial Tournament MVP and many more. “I worked hard,” she said. “Some people, I feel like they understated my abilities and what not, but just looking at the list right there, it speaks for itself.”

(Left to right): former head coach Ramin Sadaghiani, Ashley dela Cruz Yip, Francis Penafiel and Carmelle M’Bikata pose at the Blues Senior Night 2018. Photo c/o Vancouver Sports Photography

Though Britannia Secondary’s dela Cruz Yip arrived at CapU the same year as M’Bikata, the talented guard took a bit more time adjusting to PACWEST play. Additionally, in her first year, dela Cruz Yip struggled to balance the commitment of being a student athlete. “Coming into it, I was excited about ball, but I wasn’t really focused on being a student athlete completely,” she recalled. Eventually, she used the same focus and dedication that allowed her to grow into one of the team’s top players and leaders over her time as a Blue and saw similar success in school.

Dela Cruz Yip’s off-court accolades are matched by her on-court recognitions. Over her five-year career, she has been named a Blues Scholar Athlete of Distinction, received the PACWEST Academic Excellence Award and the CCAA National Scholar Award. In regards to athletic acknowledgments, she’s been named a PACWEST First Team All Star, PACWEST Championship Tournament All Star, CCAA National Tournament Second Team All Star and has the most assists in PACWEST history. Additionally, dela Cruz Yip developed into one of the team’s strongest leaders. “We were kind of grooming her to be a leader from the get go and the last two years she’s been awesome, she’s been the quarterback of the team,” Weimer explained.

Penafiel, while not having the same number of personal accolades as M’Bikata and dela Cruz Yip, has been just as integral to the Blues success. Coming to CapU the year before M’Bikata and dela Cruz Yip, she’s also been able to see her two fellow fifth-years develop. “Carmelle wasn’t a very shy rookie. She just owns it all the time. Ace also has a lot of confidence in herself,” she said. “They’ve always had the leadership qualities, now it’s just more noticeable.”

As a player, Penafiel admitted that she was reserved her first few years on the team. And after taking last year off to travel the world, she returned this year for what she knew would be her last campaign. “She was an impact player for us this year,” said Weimer. “She has so much talent. I think what held her back the most was that she was a little bit timid and probably unsure of her talents and not confident enough, but I saw a real growth in her game and her confidence in her fifth year.”

With their playing careers now over, the trio have set their eyes forward. Dela Cruz Yip and Penafiel will both be graduating from CapU with their Associates Degrees in Psychology and plan on attending SFU to continue their studies. The two also hope to build their careers around community outreach. M’Bikata will be graduating with her Bachelor’s Degree in Business Administration with a focus on HR either next Spring or Fall. Upon graduating she plans on travelling and then pursuing a Masters degree.

Perhaps even greater than their personal and team achievements are the relationships that the three have built over their five years, including close friendships with each other. “Those are just the things I’ll hold onto forever and I’m really grateful for that,” M’Bikata said, “Ace and Francis, I’m going to miss seeing them everyday.”

With their futures looking bright, it’s time for the Blues to say goodbye to three of their shining stars. “They’re all going to be successful, there’s no doubt about it,” Weimer said. “They’re not just great teammates and basketball players, but they’re great individuals.”

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