SARNIA, Ontario — The holiday break is upon us in the ACAC, but it’s never too early to begin thinking about the second half of the season.
With student-athletes now preparing for their final exams as opposed to their next opponents, we decided that now was a perfect time to start planning ahead for what will surely be an exciting second half to the 2018-19 season in the ACAC. The women’s basketball landscape in the conference is in prime position for an exciting finish as teams continue to jockey for positioning ahead of the ACAC Championships that will be hosted by the Keyano College Huskies.
The standings provide a ton of potential story lines for the second half of the season. Both divisions feature tight races for the top spot ahead of the post-season, while the battle for the fourth and final spots in each division will be ones to watch right down to the final weekend of the regular season.
With that said, here are three games, or weekend sets, that will go a long way in determining playoff seeding when the season comes to an end that you won’t want to miss as the second half gets rolling in January.
Briercrest College Clippers at St. Mary’s University Lightning
January 25th and 26th, 2019
The race for the fourth and final playoff spot in each division will be an exciting one as the season unfolds. In the South Division, the final spot in the post-season could come down to the Briercrest College Clippers and the St. Mary’s University Lightning (STMU). Two of the top three scorers in the conference will be on display over the weekend of January 25-26, and wins for either program will go a long way in helping each team secure a spot in the post-season.
Briercrest College has the luxury of having two of the top guards in the league without the level of attention that they deserve, Their anonymity will do them favours as the season unwinds, as many people simply don’t talk about the Clippers. Adrianna Beck is the second-leading scorer in the ACAC with an average of 20.7 points per contest while shooting above 40% from three-point range. Tracy Lewis has been a strong two-way player all season long, averaging 14.6 points, 8.3 rebounds, and 4.2 assists per game. She has a triple-double against the Ambrose Lions to her name already this season, and has flirted with a couple more during the first half of the year. Add in Amber Tilcox and her 12.1 rebounds per game in the front court and the Clippers have an intriguing group heading into the second half.
The St. Mary’s University Lightning are a team that you can’t count out until the season has officially come to a close. Last year, the Lightning won the ACAC Championships as the fourth-seed from the South Division to advance to the CCAA Championships. They find themselves in a similar position this year, and they’re hoping that history can repeat itself if they can squeak into the playoffs. Emily Wagner ranks third in the league in scoring, trailing Beck by less than a point for second spot (20.1 ppg). She also leads the Lightning with 8.3 rebounds per contest through eight games. Hannah Helton gives the Lightning a strong one-two punch on offense, as she averages 13.0 points per contest. The Clippers have a bit more depth than the Lightning possess, but STMU has the experience of winning an ACAC Championship that they can draw from when time’s get tough.
Augustana Vikings at CUE Thunder
January 25th and 26th, 2019
The top two teams in the ACAC North Division will square off at the end of the month as the CUE Thunder welcome the division-leading Augustana Vikings to town for a pair of meetings in Edmonton. Augustana ended the first half of the season with a 10-2 record and two games in-hand over CUE, while the Thunder are four points behind with an 8-4. Given that the Vikings have played two fewer games than the Thunder to this point in the season, the advantage has to go to Augustana in terms of playoff seeding for now.
Come the end of January, the Thunder will look to make up the two-game differential by knocking off the Vikings at home over the weekend. The Thunder have five players who average at least 9.8 points per game this season, and four of those players are either fourth-year or fifth-year student-athletes. They are veteran-heavy atop their production lists, and their experiences bodes well for them down the stretch. The front court pair of Danielle MacLellan (13.9 ppg, 7.1 rpg) and Ann Ulmer (10.1 ppg, 4.8 rpg) have put together strong seasons so far for the Thunder, while fifth-year guard Morgan Dool (10.5 ppg) has provided a veteran presence in the back court.
Leading the way for the Vikings are two of the top three-point shooters in the conference. The pair of Jessica Haenni and Samantha Dargis rank fourth and fifth in the ACAC in terms of three-point shooting percentage after the first half of the season. Coincidentally, they are the top two scorers for the Vikings. Haenni ranks fifth in the league in three-point shooting (44.4%) while leading Augustana with 14.4 points per game. Not to be outdone, Dargis ranks fourth with a 45.4% from beyond the arc while ranking second on the team in scoring (11.6 ppg). Give the edge to the Vikings in terms of back court play and production, but the front court edge to the Thunder,
The Vikings and Thunder met to open the regular season, and both teams picked up a win over the weekend set. Both games were separated by a combined four points, so if that’s any indication, the weekend series in January will be a close affair once more.
Olds College Broncos at Medicine Hat Rattlers
January 11th, 2019
Circle January 11th, 2019 on your calendars now and free up your Friday night because you won’t want to miss the second and final regular season showdown between the top two teams in the ACAC South Division. The Olds College Broncos will be looking to avenge their season-opening loss to the Medicine Hat Rattlers, while the Rattlers will look to hold down home court and complete the two-game sweep in the regular season series.
The game on the 11th of January will go a long way in determining who has the upper hand in the division as both teams are jostling for the top seed from the South Division in the post-season. The Broncos and Rattlers rank one and two, respectively, in terms of points per game on offense as a team, so you can bet that there will be plenty of offense to go around.
Olds College boasts arguably the top inside-out tandem in the conference with Brittney Thibeaux and Kyla Adams. In the ACAC, Thibeaux leads the league in scoring with an average of 28.7 points per game, an even 8.0 points ahead of second (Adrianna Beck). She ranks fifth in rebounding (9.3 rpg), and is second in terms of field goal percentage (56.5%). When you add in Adams (15.8 ppg) and Michaela Allen-Gullion (13.3 ppg, 6.0 apg) to the mix, the Broncos have a trio of players who can impact the game on both ends of the court.
Not to be outdone, the Rattlers have an offensive unit that features four players in double-figures and nine players who are averaging at least 3.8 points per contest this season. Medicine Hat is led by veteran guard Kendell Kuntz, who averages a team-best 17.0 points per contest. Up front, Katelyn Rozbeda averages 10.8 points and a team-high 8.2 rebounds per outing. If Rozbeda and the Rattlers can contain Thibeaux up front, they will come away with the win. However, if she finds her groove early on, the Broncos will have the upper hand.
– T. Bennett