Algoma Thunderbirds Looking to Continue Forward Trajectory in 2019-20

Fracalanza, Karly
Sarnia native Karly Fracalanza and the Algoma Thunderbirds will be looking to build off their five-win season from 2018-19. (Source: Bob Davies Sports Photography) (Header: Bob Davies Sports Photography)

SAULT STE. MARIE, Ont. — 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 women’s basketball program for the Algoma Thunderbirds.

2018-19 in Review

For the Algoma Thunderbirds, the 2018-19 season was their best season in terms of wins since they entered the OUA.

Algoma set a new program-high with five wins last season, and while that may not be a lot to some, it’s another step in the right direction for the Thunderbirds. After several years where they managed two wins or fewer, notching five wins has the team looking towards the future as opposed to the past.

The record for the Thunderbirds could have been much improved if some of their close contests went in their favour.

Last year I felt we really competed the entire year,” said Head Coach Ryan Vetrie. “We had a lot of close games but ended up coming up short on some very important divisional games.”

Algoma kicked off the season with six straight losses, limping into the 2018-19 season out of the gates. They followed that up with a pair of two-game winning streaks around the mid-point of the season. The Thunderbirds picked up wins over the Laurentian Voyageurs and Nipissing Lakers midway through the month of November. From there, they swept a two-game set at home against the Waterloo Warriors to open the 2019 calendar year.

Down the stretch, the Thunderbirds would struggle. They closed the year with just one win over their final 12 games after knocking off the Warriors, finishing the season with a 5-19 record. Algoma finished in a tie for eighth place in the OUA West Division with the Western Mustangs, missing the playoffs as a result.

Still, the regular season should be considered a step in the right direction for Vetrie and the Thunderbirds. With a new program high in wins to build upon as the 2019-20 season quickly approaches, the Thunderbirds will lean on a veteran roster to help the team continue their climb in the OUA standings and contend for a playoff spot.

Who’s Gone?

From last year’s team, the Thunderbirds will be without two players last season. One of the two was used sparingly off the bench, while the other was one of their top contributors on both ends of the floor.

Cole, Karina
The loss of Karina Cole leaves a big hole in the rotation for Algoma, but the Thunderbirds welcome back the bulk of their roster in 2019-20. (Source: Algoma Thunderbirds)

Karina Cole (Lincoln, Mich.) was one of the Thunderbirds’ top players last season, and her departure leaves a big hole in the back-court rotation. Last season, Cole finished second on the team in scoring, averaging 11.5 points per contest. Cole added 4.8 rebounds, 1.7 assists, and 2.4 steals per game on top of her offensive production.

Off the bench, the Thunderbirds lose Farah Alfar (Aurora, Ont.). Last season, she averaged 1.0 points and 0.8 rebounds per game in 8.0 minutes per outing. She did see the court in all 24 regular season games.

The good news from the Thunderbirds losing just two players after 2018-19 is that they will return the bulk of their roster. Equipped with their share of veterans, the Thunderbirds will be looking to build off last year’s five-win season and make some noise in the OUA.

Who’s Back?

In total, the Thunderbirds welcome back 10 players from last year’s team in 2019-20. Up front, Algoma boasts a veteran forward who will look to once again lead the team on offense. In the back court, the Thunderbirds have some intriguing pieces who will look to help make up for the loss of Cole in terms of production.

Forward Dionne Martin (Taupo, New Zealand) was the team’s leading scorer and rebounder last season. Martin averaged 12.1 points and 5.4 rebounds per game in 2018-19. She chipped in 1.9 assists and 1.0 steals per contest while shooting 39.9% from the field and 32.8% from three-point range.

Martin found her groove on offense in the second half of the season. She posted nine games with double-digit points in 2019, six of which came on consecutive nights to close the regular season. On the glass, Martin pulled down at least five rebounds in 14 contests. On both ends of the floor, Martin was an impact player for the Thunderbirds, and she will look to continue that trend in 2019-20.

Guard Karly Fracalanza (Sarnia, Ont.) will look to take on an even bigger role this season with the loss of Cole. In terms of returning players, Fracalanza ranks second in terms of scoring average with her 11.2 points per game. She added 4.7 rebounds, 1.9 assists, and 1.0 steals per game for a stat line that closely resembled that of Martin.

Over the course of the year, Fracalanza was one of Algoma’s most consistent performers. She had at least six points in 21 of her 23 regular season appearances. The 5’10” guard brings size to the back-court rotation, and with the departure of Cole, Fracalanza will look to become the go-to option for Vetrie and the Thunderbirds.

Other key contributors back this season are Rebecca Wylie (London, Ont.) and Aimee Garland (Winnipeg, Man.), among others. Wylie averaged 7.7 points and 4.8 rebounds per game last season, giving the Thunderbirds solid two-way production despite primarily coming off the bench. Wylie saw the court in 22 games, making six starts along the way.

As for Garland, she averaged 4.0 points and 2.1 rebounds per game on 29.3% shooting from the floor. Like Wylie, she was used primarily off the bench. Garland averaged 19.4 minutes per game while appearing in all 24 regular season games, four of which were starts.

The pair of Thais Matte (Caxais Do Sul, Brazil) and Sawyer Fischer (Wallaceburg, Ont.) will look to take on expanded roles with their season as they have another year of experience under their belts.

“This group should be hungry to make a push towards playoffs,” added Vetrie. “We know what we have to do.”

Add the likes of Darryn Lindquist (Markham, Ont.), Victoria Colp (Bolton, Ont.), Keyra Gallo (Thunder Bay, Ont.), and Kayla Gallo (Thunder Bay, Ont.) to the mix, and the Thunderbirds will have a high level of familiarity within the team in 2019-20. Experience wins in collegiate basketball, and the Thunderbirds have that in spades as they enter the 2019-20 season.

Incoming Talent

Heading into the new season, the Thunderbirds will be looking to their incoming players to help fill in the cracks in what is a roster full of experience. With that said, Algoma will also be looking towards its future beyond 2019-20, and the incoming recruits will look to assert themselves as key pieces to the rotation early in the season.

In total, the Thunderbirds have added three players on the recruiting trail ahead of the new season. Names have yet to be released, but Vetrie has added players who can help the team, both now and into the future.

“This year’s recruiting class brings more defensive depth along with some three-point shooting.”

Defensive depth and three-point shooting are two areas of the game where you can never have enough talent. For the Thunderbirds to stock up on talent in those areas bodes well for the future of the program.

The Thunderbirds have started to turn a bit of a corner in the OUA. In recent years, Algoma has struggled mightily in the league, failing to post a winning record since entering the conference.

After setting a program-high with five wins last season, the Thunderbirds will be looking to keep their own positive momentum going as a program and build on it this season. With a veteran roster in tow, they will look to use that to their advantage and turn some of their close contests in their favour this season.

With their veterans leading the way, don’t be surprised to see the Thunderbirds contending for a playoff spot down the stretch this season. Tides are starting to turn for Algoma, and they are certainly drifting in the right direction.

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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