Vikes fly into playoffs on 12-game winning streak

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“It was a total lacklustre effort from us,” said coach Dani Sinclair after her women’s basketball team was trounced 96–63 by the University of Saskatchewan Huskies on Nov. 18, 2017.

“We did get some energy from some kids off the bench but we were totally disorganized offensively and our bad shots were turnovers that led to layups for them.”

Thankfully, the team had a week off after the thrashing — ”a chance to reset,” admitted Sinclair — before they continued their season. They knew things had to change, but chances are none of them knew just how drastic the change would be.

“That’s how you learn how to win. You learn how to win together.”

Two months later, the Vikes are on a 12-game winning streak, heading into the Canada West Playoffs as fifth seed. It’s a stunning turnaround, spearheaded by a handful of key players.

Kristy Gallagher and Amira Giannattasio, veterans of the team, have averaged a collective 38.4 points per game throughout the streak, while third-year Katie Langdon and first-year Ashlyn Day have scored 10 or more points on four and five occasions respectively.

It’s easy to get lost in the statistical impressiveness that the winning streak represents, but Sinclair insists that it’s the last thing her team is thinking about.

“[The locker room] is steady, and not focussed on results and numbers and individual play or stats,” Sinclair says, speaking before the team’s 12th victory in Vancouver. “I haven’t heard any of the girls talking about even winning or losing — it’s just about playing together.”

With a record of 16–4, the Vikes have qualified for the Canada West playoffs (along with the UVic men’s team, who head into the postseason with a 10-10 record). They’ll have a play-in game against the University of Fraser Valley Cascades at UVic, on Friday, Feb. 9.

It will be a tough game — the Vikes split a pre-season series with the Cascades — but the Vikes have had a lot of practice at scraping together results.

Kristy Gallagher is one reason why the Vikes’s season has gone so well.

“When you look at the stretch, which hopefully continues into the playoffs and beyond, there have been a lot of tight games,” Sinclair says. “We’ve been down in a lot of those games and have shown a lot of resolve to come together and put things together and make things happen.”

To her, that speaks to the character of the players.

“I’ve been a part of sport for long enough to know that that doesn’t happen unless you have a group of people that wanna play for each other,” says Sinclair.

Their resolve was on full display in the Vikes’s two final regular season games against the UBC T-Birds. On Thursday night, the Vikes found themselves down by a point with just 17 seconds left in a hard-fought game. Kristy Gallagher took the ball off the inbound, shouldered her way past UBC’s Madison Legault and Maddison Penn, and went for the lay-up — only to see it bounce off the rim.

But Gallagher collected her own rebound, and with 11.2 seconds on the clock, scored with her next attempt. The Vikes would hold onto that game — their 11th win — before beating the T-Birds by five points the next night (a comparatively breezy result).

With the playoffs looming, it might seem like the Vikes just need to keep doing what they’re doing, but Sinclair doesn’t think it’s that simple.

“By no means are we claiming that we’ve got it all figured out, [that] this is a formula,” she says. “That’s what makes sport so special. It evolves. And what works for even a certain individual in one moment is going to change and evolve over time.”

Instead, Sinclair says the team are sticking to their basics — focussing on one play at a time, and on the strength of the team as a whole.

“You learn so much from the people who are in battle with you, in the trenches with you,” Sinclair says. “That’s how you learn how to win. You learn how to win together.”