Struggling squads square off with their eyes on a brighter start to 2019

Struggling squads square off with their eyes on a brighter start to 2019

Sault Ste. Marie, Ont. – The 2018-19 season didn’t quite get off on the right foot for either the Waterloo Warriors or Algoma Thunderbirds, but that doesn’t mean they can’t kick off the winter semester with an electrifying effort. With the anticipation of a new calendar year and plenty of basketball left to be played, both of these young West Division combatants will have a winning winter start on their minds in this week’s Marquee Matchup, powered by Planters Canada.

They may only have five wins between them, but there will be plenty of talent suiting up for the two squads, who rank seventh and eighth, respectively, in their division. And it was the Warriors that showcased their budding talent to end the fall semester schedule, reeling off back-to-back wins to close out 2018 against the Nipissing Lakers and Laurentian Voyageurs, respectively.

Helping the black and gold bring this modest two-game winning streak into their back-to-back with Algoma has been the steady play of newcomer Kaitlyn Overeem (Brantford, Ont.). The first-year guard, who has an OUA Athlete of the Week nod under her belt already, has looked steady leading the Warriors offence, pacing the team with 12.4 points per game, as well as 3.4 assists per contest. More than her offensive capabilities, the rookie can also handle her own on defence, chipping in with an average of 2.5 steals; good enough for a top-10 ranking in the conference.

Also helping to put points on the board for the Warriors out of the backcourt is fellow first-year Vanessa Hughes (Hamilton, Ont.), who remains a scoring threat both inside and beyond the arc en route to her 7.9 PPG, as well as Aphia Ward (Beaumont, Ont.), who ranks third on the team in scoring, while also contributing to the team’s nearly 10 steals per game with over 1.5 of her own. But while this talented backcourt has helped to spearhead their recent winning ways, Waterloo isn’t the only team to earn back-to-back wins this season.

The Thunderbirds took care of the same feat when they reeled off victories over those same two squads. Thais Matte (Caxias Do Sul, Brazil) led the way for the T’Birds in their first victory of the year against Laurentian, pouring in 19 points to top all scorers. Karina Cole (Lincoln, MI) chipped in with 16 points of her own, while Karly Fracalanza (Sarnia, Ont.) dominated the glass with a game-high 13 rebounds. Cole was at it again in her team’s second win, meanwhile, as she combined with Dionne Martin (Taupo, NZ) for a total of 35 points against the Lakers.

The Martin-Cole duo has been a noticeable difference-maker for Algoma thus far, as they enter as the team’s lone double-digit scorers, with 10.1 and 10.0 points per game, respectively. Just behind them is Fracalanza, who chips in 9.9 points per contest for the northern school. This same trio is also leading the way on the glass, as they each check in with averages just shy of five rebounds per game. Their impressive play on both ends of the court should make this trio dangerous once again in their 2019 debut as they look to guide the T’Birds into a playoff position.

While these individuals have been making their mark, the team as a whole has struggled to put up top-tier numbers. Algoma currently ranks 15th in team scoring (54.3 PPG), while surrendering the most points in the conference at 76.3 PPG. Similarly, however, their counterparts have also failed to amass eye-popping numbers on either end of the court, ranking 16th and 11th, respectively, in team offence (51.9 PPG) and defence (69.3 PPG).

Oftentimes, greater success comes with greater experience; however, something that neither squad boasts a lot of. There is no shortage of young talent for either Algoma or Waterloo, including nine first-year players suiting up for the latter, and with that, there are plenty of lessons still to be learned each time they take the court. But while the numbers may not jump off the page, the improvement has been happening at every turn.

Both teams are on pace to outperform their results from a season ago, with Waterloo already surpassing their 2017-18 win total (2). A win for Algoma will help them do the same, but undoubtedly, both teams will have their eyes on the prize and continued growth on their minds in this upcoming back-to-back. And as momentum can be a valuable tool for any squad, especially in a division that could see any number of teams reach the postseason, Friday’s marquee matchup will be a must-see way to start the year.

For those looking to catch the action, tune in to on Friday, January 4 at 6:00pm to see Algoma battle Waterloo at the George Leach Centre. Fans can also watch via the corresponding app, available for download on Amazon Fire, Android TV, Apple TV, and Roku.