UBC Thunderbirds Gearing Up for Title Run in 2019-20 With Veteran Roster

Filewich, Keylyn (2)
Keylyn Filewich was arguably the most consistent player in all of U Sports last season, and she’s back for another shot at the title in 2019-20. (Source: Rich Lam – UBC Thunderbirds) (Header: UBC Thunderbirds)

VANCOUVER, BC — If you’re reading this, it’s not too late.

The 2019-20 basketball season is right around the corner, and we’re here to help you get set for what will surely be an incredible journey.

While we’re still looking back on an incredible 2018-19 season, one that saw two teams win their first-ever National Championships in school history, it’s also the perfect time to look ahead. The 2019-20 season promises to deliver a heightened level of excitement, and we can’t wait to see what’s in store for the new campaign.

To get fans across the country ready for the new season, we’ve taken on a challenge that hasn’t been done before. In the coming weeks, we will preview every team from coast to coast ahead of the 2019-20 season.

That’s 111 different programs, if you’re keeping a tally.

From August 8th through to October 6th, every team will be previewed in some capacity. For institutions that have both men’s and women’s basketball, a separate preview piece will be done for each team.

Rosters will be dissected and a look back at the year that was will help us determine what the team looks like this time around as every team begins with a blank slate in the standings.

Without further adieu, here is today’s preview on the UBC Thunderbirds women’s basketball team.

2018-19 in Review

The 2018-19 season had the look of a promising one for the Thunderbirds, but an early playoff loss sent the team home much earlier than many were expecting.

Heading into the season, the Thunderbirds had the look of a team that could make a run in the post-season. While they didn’t know it at the time, but UBC picked up a 73-71 win over the eventual national champion McMaster Marauders in exhibition play.

In the regular season, the Thunderbirds posted a 14-6 record, finishing fifth in the Canada West standings to narrowly miss a bye into the Canada West quarter-finals. Their two games against the Victoria Vikes in the Legends Cup were two of the best games all season across U Sports.

On November 1st, the Thunderbirds needed triple-overtime to pick up the 113-108 win. Two nights later, the Vikes got their revenge on UBC, picking up a 72-65 win. Both teams won on their home court.

In the post-season, the Thunderbirds drew the 12-seed Winnipeg Wesmen in their play-in game. While UBC was considered the favourite to come away with the win, Winnipeg had other ideas. The Wesmen held an eight-point lead at the break, and while the Thunderbirds did their best to mount a second-half comeback, they would fall just short in the end.

Winnipeg would pick up the 67-64 upset win, sending the Thunderbirds home much earlier than they would have hoped.

Looking ahead to the new season, the Thunderbirds have a chip on their shoulder after last year’s post-season loss. With a veteran roster back for another run at the Canada West title, the case could be made that they are the team to beat this season, especially with significant losses around the conference.

Who’s Gone?

One word can quickly answer the question of who’s gone for the Thunderbirds in 2019-20 from last year’s team.


After comparing last year’s roster to this year’s squad listed on the Thunderbirds’ website, the names all coincide with both years. The Thunderbirds bring back their entire roster from a season ago, unless there’s a tidbit of news that we overlooked. In their exhibition opener, UBC had their core group together for the contest, and while the result didn’t go their way, some of their big names continued to put up impressive numbers.

With everyone back, here are a few names that you’ll want to keep in the memory bank heading into 2019-20.

Who’s Back?

After finishing in fifth-place last season, the Thunderbirds left something on the table with the talent they had on their roster. An early post-season exit has put a chip on the shoulders of the returning class heading into 2019-20, and they will be looking to climb in the Canada West standings. With one of Canada’s most consistent forwards back in the mix for another season, plus all of their production from a year ago, the Thunderbirds have the look of a team that’s well-equipped for a national title run.

Leading the way once again in 2019-20 will be forward Keylyn Filewich (Winnipeg, Man.). Last season, Filewich was one of Canada’s most consistent forwards, recording double-digit points in every game she played, whether it be exhibition, regular season, or playoffs. On top of that, she recorded 16 double-doubles throughout the year, showcasing her talent in the paint on both ends of the floor.

For the year, Filewich averaged 18.4 points and 10.5 rebounds per contest, while shooting 59.0% from the field and 70.8% from the free throw line. In one of the games of the year on November 1st against Victoria, Filewich went for 23 points and 27 rebounds in a 113-108 win for the Thunderbirds over the Vikes.

Heading into 2019-20, Filewich should be considered one of the preseason favourites for U Sports Player of the Year.

Maddison Penn (Avoca Beach, AUS) is also back for the 2019-20 season, giving UBC one of the top tandems in the country, let alone the Canada West Conference. Not to be outdone, Penn posted double-digit points in 25 of her 27 appearances last season over the course of the year while recording 12 double-doubles of her own. She had at least seven rebounds on 22 occasions.

Over the course of 2018-19, Penn averaged 15.9 points and 9.4 rebounds per contest, while shooting 37.9% from the field. With Penn and Filewich patrolling the paint on both ends of the floor and being significant players on the glass, the Thunderbirds have a star-studded tandem who will be hungry to avenge last year’s early playoff exit.

In the back court, Jessica Hanson (Vancouver, BC) gives the Thunderbirds one of the more underrated point guards in the conference. Last season, Hanson averaged 4.7 assists per contest to lead the team in that category. She also averaged 11.2 points and 3.0 rebounds per game. Down the stretch, Hanson showed what she was capable of on the offensive end of the floor, reaching double-digit points seven times over the team’s final eight contests.

Laguerta, Gabrielle
Gabrielle Laguerta is a name to watch this season for UBC, especially after her three-point performance against Alabama. (Source: Rich Lam – UBC Thunderbirds)

Gabrielle Laguerta (Burnaby, BC) has the look of a breakout player in the Canada West this season. Coming off a season in which she averaged 5.8 points and 2.0 rebounds per game, Laguerta has shown what she’s capable of this preseason with a standout performance against the Alabama Crimson Tide in exhibition play. Laguerta tied a school record with eight made three-pointers in the Thunderbirds’ 104-74 loss.

Last season, Laguerta shot 42.5% from three-point range.

In addition, the Thunderbirds also welcome back the likes of Kate Johnson (Kelowna, BC), Hailey Counsell (Port Moody, BC), and Madison Legault (North Vancouver, BC) to the rotation for 2019-20, adding more talent and more experience to the roster. All three players averaged more than 5.8 points and 2.3 rebounds per game last season, serving as key contributors in the UBC rotation.

Up and down their roster, the Thunderbirds have their share of experience and talent. To top it all off, UBC will add a pair of freshmen to the mix, one of whom was recognized as an All-Canadian this season and will add more talent to the front court mix.

Incoming Talent

With their full roster back from last year’s team, the Thunderbirds had limited space on their roster for incoming recruits. With that said, UBC went out and picked up a pair of commitments to bolster their roster, one of which will look to factor in from the outset of the season.

The key addition for the Thunderbirds this season is centre Olivia Morgan-Cherchas (Kamloops. BC). The 6’6” centre adds more talent and size to a front court rotation that is already among the nation’s best. This past year, Morgan-Cherchas was honoured as a BioSteel All-Canadian selection at the inaugural BioSteel All-Canadian Women’s Showcase Game in Toronto.

With Morgan-Cherchas in tow, the future looks bright for the Thunderbirds in the front court.

UBC also picked up a commitment from 5’10” guard Emily Martindale (Ancaster, Ont.). Martindale played her high school basketball at Lincoln Prep, and will be another depth piece in the Thunderbirds’ rotation when she suits up with the team.

They had limited space to bolster their roster, but the Thunderbirds found a way to increase their overall depth and talent with two key commitments.

The way the 2018-19 season ended for the Thunderbirds had to have left a bitter taste in the mouths of players, coaches, and fans alike. UBC had title aspirations and were looking to contend deep into the playoffs, only to have the Wesmen pull off an upset on the Thunderbirds’ home court, no less.

Fast forward to the 2019-20 season, and the Thunderbirds have some extra motivation on their side. With all of their production back from last year’s fifth-place team, the team has their sights set on earning a bye into the quarter-finals and contending for a Canada West title, and a spot at Nationals.

Filewich, Penn, and company will be looking to rewrite last year’s ending. How this story ends remains to be seen, but based on the early look at the roster, the 2019-20 chapter could very well have a fairy tale ending for the Thunderbirds.

Be sure to bookmark our 2019-20 Season Previews page to keep up with the previews as they are released online.

– T. Bennett

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