Young stars lead Waterloo, Guelph into late-season matchup primed with playoff implications

Young stars lead Waterloo, Guelph into late-season matchup primed with playoff implications

Guelph, Ont. – The regular season is winding down, and with just a few games left on the schedule, the importance of each becomes that much more magnified. The Guelph Gryphons and Waterloo Warriors will be living proof of that when they hit the hardwood on Saturday, as they go head-to-head in this week’s Marquee Matchup, powered by Planters Canada, fighting for their playoff lives with just three games to go.

Part of a heated battle for the West Division’s final playoff spot, the Warriors and Gryphons have plenty to play for when they meet on Saturday, but even earlier in the season, this was a matchup that provided plenty of intrigue right down to the wire. It will be a month to the day when these two squads meet for the second time this year, with the Warriors hoping for a repeat of the nail-biting results from that early January affair.

Backed by a seven-point effort in overtime, the Warriors came away with a 68-64 victory over Guelph when they last met. Among the key figures in that one was young star Kaitlyn Overeem (Brantford, Ont.), who poured in a game-high 22 points to lead her black and gold to the win. Another 19 points and eight boards from Aphia Ward (Beaumont, Alta.) also gave Waterloo a big boost, with every point counting in the closely-contested competition. For the Gryphons, it was Skyla Minaker’s (Sarnia, Ont.) 17 points along with Modupe Okeowo’s (Cambridge, Ont.) double-double of 14 points and 11 rebounds that paced the Gryphs’, but after surrendering their four-point cushion in the fourth quarter, it simply wasn’t enough in the end.

While that one ended on a high-note for the Warriors, they are entering this one having lost three straight games, highlighting what has been an up-and-down season for Waterloo this year. After stumbling out of the gates with five straight losses and just one win in their first eight contests, Waterloo reeled off wins in three of their next five to help right the ship. Similarly, Guelph has been navigating a roller coaster season of their own. Unlike Waterloo, the Gryphons came out of the gates strong with back-to-back wins and a victory in three of their first four, but a seven-game losing streak in the middle of the season put an end to that positive momentum. Despite their combined 11 wins, however, there is plenty for both sides to be excited about down the stretch.

After seeing a great deal of turnover heading into the season, the Warriors have had to rely on a new crop of players to help them navigate through the tough OUA competition, and while the wins haven’t been piling up, their play has shown great promise for the program moving forward. Despite the overwhelming first-year feel, the Warriors still have a very realistic shot at the postseason, and if they want to make the final push, they’ll need to turn to their budding star and floor general, Overeem, to help drive them home.

The Brantford native has quickly taken to the OUA game, leading her team with 12.5 points and showing great poise running the offence and doling out the defence. To go along with her strong scoring game, the rookie also posts 3.3 assists per contest, 4.8 rebounds per game, and a sizzling 2.6 steals per game. While there is growth still to come for the young guard, her first foyer into the university game has been a key part of her team’s playoff contention late in the season; something she will look to put on display once again in her team’s second and final meeting with Guelph this year.

Like Waterloo, Guelph also boasts a standout on their roster, with theirs coming in the form of second-year guard Burke Bechard (Dover Centre, Ont.). The sophomore has taken her game to another level after earning all-rookie honours a year ago, putting up an average of 15.4 points per game for the Gryphons. She also pulls down an average of more than eight boards and two steals per game, rounding out what is another talented two-way player powering her team into postseason contention. Three of her fellow Gryphons also average double-digit scoring - Minaker, Ivana Vujadinovic (Burlington, Ont.), and Sarah Holmes (Welland, Ont.) – but the focal point of this team’s present and future remains the play of Bechard.

While both of these cornerstone players are still developing their game, their talent-level is undeniable, and should be on full display as the two teams continue the home-stretch of their respective seasons. Dates with Western and Laurier remain for Waterloo after this weekend’s marquee matchup, while Guelph will wrap things up against the nationally-ranked Marauders and those same Laurier Golden Hawks. So with just two points separating these two teams heading into this penultimate weekend, every small detail of Saturday’s contest will play a big role in the grand scheme of things.

To see Overeem and Bechard lead their respective clubs into this week’s marquee matchup at the Guelph Gryphons Athletic Centre on February 9, fans can tune in to oua.tv at 6:00pm or check out the oua.tv app on Amazon Fire, Android TV, Apple TV, and Roku.