Track the daily movements of a basketball program from high school through university and the calendar, like clockwork, moves a team of dedicated, age-specific athletes through a timetable of tradition.
Start with those first practices of the season, progress to the start of league or conference play, and as February hits, it’s all about the big games that serve as the ultimate test towards qualifying for the post-season.
Zero in even closer on the start of the month before March Madness, and one of the most enduring traditions is Seniors Night.
High school teams have already begun holding them, and on Saturday, the time-honoured ceremony of celebrating graduating seniors at the university level will happen out in Abbotsford on Saturday, where tributes will be paid to three former B.C. high school stars who have worn the colours of Fraser Valley Cascades as they prepare to play their last Canada West regular season home games.
With that in mind, and with the assistance of UFV sports information director Dan Kinvig, here’s our look at Kayli Sartori from the women’s team, and both Manny Dulay and Vijay Dhillon from the men’s team as the Cascades play host to Victoria both Friday (women 6 p.m., men 8 p.m.) and Saturday (women 5 p.m., men 7 p.m.) at the Envision Athletic Centre.
From the first moment I first watched her play and heard her surname announced as a star member of head coach Paula Thompson’s team’s at Abbotsford’s W.J. Mouat Secondary, I thought about a play on words.
Years later, after she returned from a one-year hiatus to play her final two seasons with the Cascades, the opportunity presented itself.
She had reclaimed her old number and she was playing the best hoops of her life, and so I wrote in the pages of The Province newspaper: “It’s the same jersey she donned over the first three years of her CIS basketball career, but after figuring she was hanging it up for good following the 2013-14 season, Kayli Sartori wears it once more, this time with sartorial splendour.”
And it was true.
Upon her return in 2015-16, she not only led Canada West in scoring, but she became the true defintion of the total student-athlete.
And that synchs naturally with what her longtime head coach at UFV, Al Tuchscherer, had to say about her this week.
“She’s unique in that she’s extremely talented in an extremely athletic body,” Tuchscherer said. “I’ve never really coached somebody with that much talent and that much athleticism before. But the thing I’m most proud of Kayli for is her evolution as a leader and how much she cares now about the program and where it goes from here. The past couple years, she’s worked hard to mentor our younger teams and kids coming into our program. That’s not something that necessarily comes natural to her.
“It’s interesting with her, because everything (athletically) kind of comes easy to her,” continued Tuchscherer. “To see her embrace that (mentorship) side of things, when it’s not something that comes easy to her, I think that’s kind of neat. It’s rewarding to see that.”
As a side note, in the preseason, Cascades women’s players all received notes of inspiration from others who had followed their careers.
Stunningly, I was asked to write Kayli’s and I consider it a huge honour to have been given that responsibility, not that I think she really needed it.
This one is still very fresh because it was just a couple of weeks ago, in one of my last stories at The Province, that I had the pleasure of speaking with the former high school star from Surrey’s Tamananwis Secondary.
The theme, and I am not surprised it was based on the kind of player he was in high school, was how deadly Dulay had become en route to become the current U Sports national leader in made three-pointers.
But that day we covered so much more, including how he studied the influence that fifth-year seniors can have on their teams and how important it was to him to provide that same level of mentorship and guidance.
Yet what sat with me most was how much, after his basketball career was done, that he wanted to go back to his old high school and both teach and coach.
Adam Friesen, his head coach at UFV, has been there to see the level of natural leadership required to do just that.
“Even when he was younger and we had a bunch of different personalities on the team, whenever emotions would flare up and the intensity would rise, he was able to get everyone’s attention just by opening his mouth and beginning to talk,” said Friesen. “When he speaks, everyone listens.”
And when I was finished interviewing Dulay, we just started talking about his old high school team, how well the Wildcats were doing, and how they were looking to bounce back from an uncharacteristicly uneven start to their season.
You know our delivery system from high school through university has a lot of good things going for it when, upon the completion of its cycle, the paramount urge is to give back.
He had a quiet start to his university career at Victoria, but after finding his fit with the Cascades, the former Richmond-R.C. Palmer star has re-emerged as a vital member of his team.
Last season, he finished second in the nation in made 3’s with 61, and this season he’s his team’s second-leading scorer and is shooting at 41 per cent clip from distance.
To work to find his fit and never lose his love for the game, and now to be contemplating a career in law?
This is what it’s all about.
My most cherished Vijay memory?
For me, it was his performance in helping Palmer beat Vancouver College in the 2011 B.C. Triple A championship final.
It was the first championship held at the Langley Events Centre, and it started out like it might be the worst memory of Dhillon’s sporting career.
We’re two months shy of six years on that, so the quick refresher goes like this: Palmer started the game off by falling behind 19-2, but won 71-63.
Dhillon scored a game-high 26 points and was named the tournament’s MVP.
“He had contacted us – we didn’t know he was looking for a different place to play,” remembers Friesen, “and of course we’d known who he was from his Victoria days and his high school championship run. We knew he was a great guy who could add a lot of character and talent to the team and he’s been a really valuable piece. It’s been great to see his talent really flourish and for him to continually have better years each of his seasons with us.”
Remember this fact at any seniors night you happen to be a part of this month: There are a lot more freshman announced in each school’s recruiting class than there are seniors who get a chance to be recognized before their final home games.
The journey isn’t easy, so the night should always be special.