Filewich, Laguerta Looking to Help Guide Thunderbirds to Championship Glory in Final Season

Laguerta, Gabrielle
Against the Alabama Crimson Tide in exhibition play, Gabrielle Laguerta grabbed headlines with her shooting from three-point range. What will she have in store for her fifth and final season? (Source: UBC Thunderbirds) (Header: Wilson Wong – UBC Thunderbirds)

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

While we’re still looking back on an incredible 2019-20 season, one that had no shortage of excitement across both U Sports and the CCAA, it’s also the perfect time to look ahead.

The 2020-21 season is going to be one for the history books. Due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, the start of the season has been pushed back until at least January 2021 for most leagues, with Quebec as the exception. The RSEQ has yet to make a decision on whether or not to delay sports until the Winter semester.

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 2020-21 season.

That’s 112 different programs, if you’re keeping a tally at home.

We are attempting to preview each and every team from coast to coast ahead of the new season. Challenges have emerged in each of the last two seasons as we’ve attempted this feat before, but we’re going to give it another run.

As they say, third time’s the charm. Right?

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 program.

2019-20 in Review

For the UBC Thunderbirds, the 2019-20 season was another one that saw them achieve success in the regular season, but come up a tad short in the post-season. That’s not a knock on the Thunderbirds, but a testament to how tough the Canada West is on a yearly basis, especially in the playoffs.

UBC entered the 2019-20 regular season on the heels of a strong preseason. They put together a record of 7-4 in exhibition games, including a three-game sweep on their trip to Italy back at the beginning of August. Then, despite the losses, the Thunderbirds gained valuable experience playing against both the Kent State Golden Flashes and Alabama Crimson Tide.

Come the regular season, the Thunderbirds hit their stride. They posted a 16-4 record for the season, much like their Men’s Basketball Program, and they would also finish in the third spot in the regular season standings. UBC closed the regular season on an eight-game winning streak, giving themselves a momentum boost in the Canada West Quarterfinals.

After closing the regular season with a pair of wins over the Winnipeg Wesmen, UBC squared off with the Wesmen once more in the Quarterfinals. The Thunderbirds used a strong showing in the second and third quarters to give themselves some momentum, outscoring the Wesmen by a 54-33 margin in the middle quarters.

Winnipeg tried to make a fourth-quarter comeback, outscoring UBC by 10 points but it wasn’t enough. The Thunderbirds held on for the 92-85 win, punching their ticket to the Semifinals and within a game of advancing to Nationals.

Standing in between the Thunderbirds and a spot in the Canada West Final was none other than the Saskatchewan Huskies, the 2015-16 U Sports National Champions. UBC was looking to pull off the upset over a Huskies team that was ranked #1 in Canada during the regular season, and while they left it all on the floor, they came up a tad short.

The Thunderbirds held a 57-52 lead heading into the fourth quarter, but Saskatchewan launched their own fourth-quarter comeback in an attempt to overtake UBC. In the end, the Huskies would climb all the way back and come away with a hard-fought 76-72 win over the Thunderbirds.

Saskatchewan would ultimately go on to win the National Championship with an 82-65 win over the Brock Badgers.

Despite falling just shy in the Canada West Semifinals, it was another strong season for the Thunderbirds. In fact, it was their 21st season with a regular season record of .500 or better under Head Coach Deb Huband. UBC has recorded just four years with a record under .500 in Huband’s 25-year tenure, and three of those four were in her first three seasons at the helm.

UBC has been a standard of consistency in the Canada West in recent years, regularly finishing at or above .500 and are always in contention. However, it’s been over a decade since their last National Championship (2007-08). With a group of veterans expected back for their fifth and final seasons in 2020-21, they will be looking to help guide the Thunderbirds back to Championship glory before calling it a career at UBC.

Who’s Gone?

With the ever-changing situation surrounding the global COVID-19 pandemic, and its effect on school enrollment for the fall semester and beyond, speculating what the 2020-21 roster could look like for the Thunderbirds is about the best we can do at this point.

On February 8th, at their last regular season home game last season against the Winnipeg Wesmen, the Thunderbirds paid homage to their three graduating seniors. Guards Jessica Hanson (Vancouver, B.C.), Maddison Penn (Avoca Beach, Australia), and Krysten Lindquist (Markham, Ont.) were all fifth-year players with the program, and won’t be returning in 2020-21.

Forward Tanis Metcalfe (North Vancouver, B.C.) also won’t be back this season after transferring to the Capilano Blues in the PACWEST. Metcalfe posted 5.5 points and 3.8 rebounds per game last season while shooting 53.9% from the floor over 18 regular season appearances.

With her five-year career now officially in the books, Hanson will go down as one of the best players to wear a Thunderbirds uniform. She played in all 100 regular season games over her five-year career, recording a total of 1,108 points over that span. It’s rare to never miss a game over five seasons, and that’s a testament to Hanson’s longevity, work ethic, and drive to succeed.

Hanson, Jessica
Jessica Hanson didn’t miss a beat, literally, over her five-year career at UBC, appearing in all 100 games over her five seasons with the Thunderbirds. (Source: Rich Lam – UBC Thunderbirds)

This past season, Hanson averaged 14.9 points, 5.3 rebounds, and 4.2 assists per game while shooting 43.7% from the field and 37.0% from three-point range. She ranked fourth in the league in assists per game, and put together 13 games with at least four assists over the course of the year. On top of that, Hanson also recorded double-digit points on 16 occasions, and pulled down at least five rebounds 13 separate times.

Hanson capped off her collegiate career with a Canada West 3rd-Team All-Star Selection at year’s end. But, her basketball playing career is far from over. Hanson signed her first professional contract back at the end on July, and she will be joining the Tipperary Knights Basketball Club (Ireland) to begin her professional career.

Despite missing the first eight games of the season in 2019-20, Penn gave the Thunderbirds another veteran presence in the back court. Over her 12 regular season appearances, Penn averaged 6.8 points and 3.4 rebounds per game, shooting 36.5% from the field and 80.8% from the free throw line along the way.

Penn made her regular season debut on November 29th against the Lethbridge Pronghorns, recording seven points and six rebounds on the day. She would record double-digit points on three occasions during the regular season, hitting a season-high 12 points in two of those games.

Rounding out the trio of graduating guards, Lindquist saw the floor in 15 regular season games in 2019-20. The Ontario native posted 1.4 points and 1.6 rebounds per contest off the bench for the Thunderbirds, shooting 37.5% from the field for the year.

Losing Hanson, a player who was one of the league’s top point guards last season and who will go down as one of the best players to play at UBC, will be tough to replace. The experience that the departing group takes with them will be the toughest aspect to replace, as is the case with most schools and their graduating classes.

While the Thunderbirds will be without their second-leading scorer (Hanson), and two of their top six (Hanson, Metcalfe) heading into 2020-21, Coach Huband is expected to return the other four players in the top six. That group includes a First Team U Sports All-Canadian and a top-tier three-point shooter, both of whom will be looking to help lead the Thunderbirds to Championship glory in their fifth and final seasons.

Who’s Back?

Like most schools and programs all across Canada, the University of British Columbia is awaiting the start of the school year to officially confirm who will be back and who may be taking a year off given the remote learning offering as opposed to in-person classes.

Based on the information from last year’s roster and Senior’s Night, we can make the assumption that the Thunderbirds will return four of their top six scorers from last year’s 16-win team. That group of returnees includes a double-double machine, who just so happens to be the reigning Canada West Player of the Year.

Forward Keylyn Filewich (Winnipeg, Man.) is arguably the top front-court player in all of Canada, let alone the Canada West. Last season, Filewich was named the Canada West Player of the Year, and was subsequently selected as a U Sports First Team All-Canadian for her efforts over the course of the season.

Filewich averaged 19.1 points, 10.3 rebounds, and 2.3 assists per game while appearing in all 20 regular season games. She shot 59.1% from the field and 62.2% from the free throw line for the year. Filewich finished the year ranked fourth in the Canada West in scoring, second in rebounding, and first in field goal percentage.

Throughout the entire 2019-20 season, Filewich was the model for consistency. She recorded 14 double-doubles on the year, all while scoring at least 13 points each time out, and recording at least five rebounds in every game.

The situation with Filewich gets interesting with the 2020-21 season, and the impact that the COVID-19 pandemic will have on eligibility. If there is a season in 2020-21 but eligibility isn’t used, we could very well get two more years of Filewich for the price of one year of eligibility. Still, if this year is indeed the last for Filewich, you can bet that she’ll do whatever it takes to help the Thunderbirds come out on top.

In the back court, fifth-year guard Gabrielle Laguerta (Burbaby, B.C.) will also look to do whatever it takes to help the Thunderbirds succeed and end her career on a high note. Last season, Laguerta posted 6.5 points, 1.6 rebounds, and 1.3 assists per game while shooting 38.9% from the field and 40.2% from three-point range.

Laguerta ranked fourth in the Canada West in terms of three-point shooting percentage for the season, and she turned a lot of heads with a standout performance from beyond the arc in exhibition play. Against the Alabama Crimson Tide back on August 6th, 2019, Laguerta went for 24 points, doing all of her damage from three-point range (8-of-11 shooting) on the day.

Canada West Basketball (USPorts) Women :   UBC host to Kent State
Guard Kate Johnson is one of three key returnees in the back court rotation for the Thunderbirds heading into the 2020-21 Season. (Source: Bob Frid – UBC Athletics)

With the losses in the back court, Hailey Counsell (Port Moody, B.C.) and Kate Johnson (Kelowna, B.C.) will look to step into expanded roles and help shoulder some of the offensive load in 2020-21.

Last season, Counsell finished third on the team in scoring, averaging 9.7 points per game on 34.5% shooting from the field. Counsell reached double-digit points on 10 occasions, including a season-high 19-point performance on January 18th against the Victoria Vikes. She closed the regular season with back-to-back 13-point, 4-of-12 shooting performances to top everything off.

As for Johnson, she will be looking to build off a strong 2019-20 season that saw her rank second in the Canada West in terms of assists per game (5.1). She dished out at least five assists on 10 occasions, including a performance against the MacEwan Griffins on January 24th that saw her go for 14 points, seven rebounds, and seven assists.

Guard Emily Martindale (Ancaster, Ont.) and wing Madison Legault (North Vancouver, B.C.) are two other names who should be in line for more minutes and an increased role this coming season. Legault saw the floor in all 20 games last season, averaging 3.4 points and 6.1 rebounds per game. Martindale appeared in 18 regular season games, averaging 3.5 points and 1.7 rebounds per contest.

One player to keep an eye on is center Olivia Morgan-Cherchas (Kamloops, B.C.). The 6’6″ forward played in just nine games as a first-year player in 2019-20, averaging 1.9 points and 1.6 rebounds per game in limited action. How she works into this year’s rotation remains to be seen, but the former BioSteel All-Canadian will look to take a jump in Year Two.

Incoming Talent

In addition to their strong group of returnees, the Thunderbirds have announced a total of four names in their 2020-21 recruiting class thus far, adding talent and depth all across their roster, but especially in the back court.

With three guards having graduated, and one forward transferring out of the program, Coach Huband and her staff have added a trio of guards and a center to bolster the roster.

In the front court, center Kiara Kozak (Port Moody, B.C.) will give the roster some added size and depth in the forward rotation. At 6’2”, Kozak gives the Thunderbirds yet another tall body in the front court alongside Morgan-Cherchas (6’6″), Marcie Schlick (Prince George, B.C.; 6’4″), and Filewich (6’1″).

Camacho, Maddie
Guard Maddie Camacho will give the Thunderbirds an offensive weapon in the back court, but also another veteran guard with post-secondary experience. (Source: UBC Thunderbirds)

On the back end, guard Madeline Camacho (Susanville, Calif.) gives UBC a talented scoring option from the outside. Camacho comes to the Thunderbirds from the Lassen College Cougars, and she averaged 14.7 points, 6.2 rebounds and 3.2 assists per game in conference play as a freshman back in the 2017-18 season.

Fellow guards Katrina Fink (Kelowna, B.C.) and Sophia Kramer (Surrey, B.C.) come to the Thunderbirds from high school. Fink played her high school basketball at Heritage Woods Secondary, while Kramer comes to UBC from Sullivan Heights Secondary.

Four players have moved on from the UBC program, and four newcomers are set to take their place on the roster. While it’s unclear as to where the new faces will slot into the rotations moving forward, Huband and her staff have added four pieces that can help the program right away.

After sitting out the last two seasons, it will be interesting to see how Camacho adjusts to collegiate basketball once more, but her addition in the back court should take some of the pressure off the shoulders of Filewich, Counsell, Laguerta, and others.

It’s no secret that the Thunderbirds know how to win. They have been as consistent as they come in league play over the last two-plus decades, but they haven’t been able to turn regular season results into post-season success in recent years.

This season, the veteran duo of Filewich and Laguerta will look to cap off their collegiate careers in similar fashion to Jadon Cohee and Manroop Clair on the Men’s Side this past season. UBC will be looking to turn their regular season success into post-season results, something that has eluded the program since their last National Championship win more than 10 years ago.

With some familiar faces taking on new roles, and four recruits coming into the program, the Thunderbirds have the pieces in place to make a run this season, especially with a player of Filewich’s caliber leading the way.

Be sure to bookmark our 2020-21 Season Previews page to keep up with the previews as they are released online.

– T. Bennett

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