BURNABY — Over a grand and somewhat surprising stretch from early-January through mid-February, the Simon Fraser Clan women’s basketball team were among the most consistent in all of NCAA Div. 2 basketball, winning 11 of 13 games.
It was span in which they beat two nationally ranked foes including No. 1 Northwest Nazarene, cemented their status this season as one of the GNAC’s upper-crust teams and most importantly, displayed an ability to handle success.
On Thursday (2:15 p.m.), when the Clan (13-7) opens play at Bellingham’s Carver Gym against the host Western Washington Vikings (11-9) in the opening round of the Great Northwest Athletic Conference championship tournament, Simon Fraser gets to show another facet of its 2018-19 persona: The manner with which it copes through the tough times.
Since beating St.Martin’s on Senior’s Night 77-57 to wrap up the home portion of the conference schedule on Feb. 16, the Clan has had all manner of adversity throw its way, including not only a concussion to senior and conference shot-block leader Samantha Beauchamp, but a nasty case of the the sniffles which has played no favourites when it’s come to weakening the effectiveness of the roster.
“We have been without Sam ever since and I think we have missed her,” began had coach Bruce Langford before practice on Monday. “We have a lot of colds and flu on the team right now and it’s connected to some bronchitis.
“So I think that we’ve got a lot of tired bodies,” continued Langford whose third-place Clan team was also stuck in the netherworld of being unable to catch either Alaska Anchorage (19-1) or Northwest Nazarene (18-2) down the stretch drive and lost three of its last four conference outings.
The big one was beating Central Washington (12-8) to hold onto third, yet losses came against Northwest Nazarene, Western Washington, and Montana State Billings (8-12).
“We went through mid-terms at the same time as our sickness, so how tough are we going to be to bounce back from a downturn?” continued Langford.
Of course that question will be answered by yet another important post-season game against head coach Carmen Dolfo’s Vikings.
Despite its tremendous third-place finish, SFU lost both of its games to Western Washington, 72-60 at home back Nov. 27, then 67-49 in Bellingham on Feb. 26.
In both games, the Clan were burned by WWU’s 6-foot-3 junior centre Anna Schweke who had 24 points and 12 rebounds in the first meeting, then 26 points and 19 rebounds in the second.
Making it all the worse for Clan fans?
Those points totals were the Evergreen, Colo., native’s two highest of the season, while her rebounding numbers were two of her three best, including a single-game high 19.
“Schweke’s played well,” said Langford. “Their philosophy is to pound the ball into the paint and to try to take away our ball movement on the perimetre. They don’t want us to get threes to disrupt our offence and they’ve had success with that twice.”
As beat up, injured and ill as they currently are, Simon Fraser is going to do everything in its power to make it an extremely tough task for the Vikings to beat them three times in the same season.
“I think we did an outstanding job of getting better every week until two weeks ago,” said Langford. “I have faith the girls will play well in Bellingham.”
Interestingly enough, Simon Fraser will be the home team as the Vikings finished sixth in the conference this season.
That means the Clan will take WWU’s normal bench, and SFU will wear its home whites while Western Washington wears its road blues.
Thursday first play-quarterfinal has fifth-place No. 5 seed Concordia playing No. 4 seed Central Washington. No. 1 Alasksa Fairbanks and No. 2 Northwest Nazarene have opening-round byes. Semifinals are slated for noon and 2:15 p.m. Friday while the title game goes at 5:20 p.m. Saturday.
SFU senior Sophie Swant finished fifth in conference scoring this season at 15.0 ppg. WWU’s Schweke was 12th at 12.2 ppg., and third in rebounding at 8.3 rpg.
SFU’s shot-blocking wiz Samantha Beauchamp has missed the last four games due to her injury and Langford was still uncertain of her status for Thursday.
“She suffered a concussion and she is going through the protocol,” Langford said.
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