The Capilano University Blues, including (left to right) Zuzia Zdziechowski, Sherrie Errico, Ashley dela Cruz Yip and Carmelle M'Bikata are in Sackville, NB as part of the 2018 CCAA championship field. (Photo by Paul Yates, Vancouver Sports Pictures)
Feature University Women's Basketball

A feather in his Cap! Blues coach Sadaghiani learns lessons from mentors Huband, Palmer to guide Capilano U to CCAA nationals

LANGLEY — Every cloud is supposed to have a silver lining, but if you ask Ramin Sadaghiani about any kind of pre-season forecast, it’s clear that the head coach of North Vancouver’s Capilano Blues women’s basketball team was measuring the 2017-18 campaign by a completely different barometre.

All of that was clear earlier this month when the Blues went out and played the best defensive half of their lives to beat Victoria’s Camosun Chargers 75-70 in the PacWest championship final, punching their tickets to the CCAA national championships which begin play Thursday on the campus of Mt. Allison University in Sackville, NB.

Over his first five seasons at the helm of the program, Sadaghiani had led his Blues to three PacWest title games but lost them all, including the past two.

That’s a lot of silver and a lot of silver linings to take to heart, but after a while…

Now in his sixth season as Capilano head coach following stints as an assistant at both UBC and his alma mater Handsworth Secondary, Ramin Sadaghiani has the Blues headed to the CCAA nationals where they open play Thursday against Montreal’s Dawson College Blues. (Photo by Paul Yates, Vancouver Sports Pictures)

“We talked before the (PacWest) championship game and I asked the girls to write down what their fear of failure might be all about,” Sadaghiani, 40, reminisced earlier this week. “What were the things that were giving them anxiety? But I didn’t read any of them. When they were finished, I told them to crumple up the paper and to throw their fear of failure away.”

A couple of hours later, it was mission accomplished, and this week, for the first time in Sadaghiani’s career at Capilano, the Blues are a part of the CCAA’s Elite 8 field, opening Thursday with a 4 p.m. (PDT) tip against another team of Blues, these ones hailing from Montreal’s Dawson College.

It’s the first trip to nationals for the Cap women since longtime former head coach Paul Chiarenza led them there in 2011.

“My goal as a coach was to find different, creative ways to acknowledge some of the fears, especially the last two years,” Sadaghiani continued. “I imagine winning another silver would have been difficult to deal with.”

Especially for the team’s two leading ladies, both fifth-year seniors, and both set to graduate from their PacWest careers as all-time individual record holders.

Interestingly enough, from a personality standpoint, they’re polar opposites. Yet within the team’s structure, all of that has provided a perfect level of balance, accompanied of course, by a ton complimentary of skill.

Cap’s Ashley dela Cruz Yip, the former Britannia Bruin, is now the PacWest/BCCAA’s all-time assists leader. (Photo by Paul Yates, Vancouver Sports Pictures)

Point guard Ashley dela Cruz Yip, the 5-foot-5 point guard and former Britannia Bruins standout, is the voice of her team, relishing the opportunity to impart her style of impassioned leadership on the group.

“The one thing I saw in Ashley right away as a high school player was a confidence in herself,” said Sadaghiani, “and believing in yourself can go a long ways. She has embraced her point guard role and that of being a vocal leader.”

After starring at Abby’s W.J. Mouat, Cap’s Carmelle M’Bikata has become Cap U’s all-time leading scorer and rebounder. (Photo by Paul Yates, Vancouver Sports Pictures)

Carmelle M’Bikata, on the other hand, has brought understated excellence to the frontcourt following a tremendous career at Abbotsford’s W.J. Mouat Secondary.

“She is the exact opposite of Ashley,” confirms Sadaghiani of the 5-foot-11 forward. “She was very quiet and reserved out of high school, and didn’t bring a lot of emotion into her game. But she came with so much raw athletic ability, and as she has developed her skills, she has shown her emotion through her stats.”

They are, in fact, so impressive that they are among the most dominant scoring-assists-rebounding duos in the entire shared history of the PacWest, including its generations as the BCCAA.

M’Bikata earlier this season became the all-time leading scorer in Capilano Blues women’s basketball history.

She heads into Thursday’s opener at nationals having scored 1,163 career points, a total that also puts her No. 3 all-time in PacWest/BCAA history. As well, her 658 career rebounds are best in school history and No. 6 all-time in the conference.

dela Cruz Yip?

She’s hardly a slouch herself.

The 389 career assists she has dished are not only the best in school history but in PacWest/BCCAA history.

M’Bikata led the team in the regular season at 13.8 ppg and 9.0 rebounds per game, with dela Cruz Yip second at 11.3 ppg and 4.8 assists per game.

Guards Reiko Ohama, Emma Cunningham, Sherrie Errico, Francis Penafiel, Simrat Dosanjh and Marti Chambers (8.5 minutes per game), as well as forwards MacKenzie Smith and Zuzia Zdziechowski all averaged double figures in minutes per game as part of a 12-player rotation for Sadaghiani.

After a lot of silver linings, the Capilano University Blues struck gold at the recent PacWest women’s basketball championships. (Photo courtesy Northfield Photography)

And the defence they played in their win over Camosun?

“It was their best effort of the season,” the coach continued as the Blues allowed 11 points in the first quarter and then just three in the second to lead 31-14 at the half. In the end, it proved enough as the Chargers caught fire in the fourth quarter. “They put together all of the pieces that we had worked on in the season and we stuck to a game plan,” said Sadaghiani.

And while it was a huge accomplishment for the players, the same could be said for the coach.

Sadaghiani’s apprenticeship was local and varied, and came at the hands of two of the best in UBC’s longtime head coach Deb Huband, and former Handsworth Royals longtime head coach Scott Palmer, whose program sent both Kris Young and Diana Lee to the ‘Birds.

“With Deb, I got my first exposure to post-secondary basketball,” said Sadaghiani, whose stint on the Point Grey campus included the 2011-12 season in which UBC advanced all the way to the CIS national final but lost in its Bronze Baby bid to the Windsor Lancers.

“I would say her teams are always so well-prepared,” he said. “I got a lot of Xs and Os there that you don’t get working at high school.”

Yet that high school experience under Palmer, which included back-to-back B.C. Triple A titles (2008-09, 2009-10) at his alma mater Handsworth, also taught invaluable lessons.

“Coaching with Scott Palmer taught me how to assemble a great team,” said Sadaghiani. “I think one of the best things that Scott did was he knew how to improve a team’s chemistry.”

As well, running the 3D Basketball Academy has also helped Sadaghiani improve in his abilities to impart skill development in any number of different players.

Put it all together, and after six years at the helm of the Blues, a basketball lifer has helped his program make the breakthrough it sought to return to the CCAA national championships.

Broadcast it as weather forecast, and you could say the clouds have cleared and the sun is shining through.

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