After returning from a one-month break for final exams, the University of Saskatchewan (USask) Huskies return to action this weekend with high hopes for the second half of the season. As the season resumes, all six men’s and women’s basketball, volleyball and hockey teams are currently in playoff position, with the Huskies’ powerhouse programs in track and field as well as wrestling also projected to be in the medal hunt in conference and national championships this season.
“We have had a great start to the season with so many of our teams and it’s been phenomenal,” said Huskies Chief Athletics Officer Shannon Chinn. “And it’s not just our top-ranked teams, but every one of our teams are competitive this year and there is opportunity for every single one of our teams to do well in playoffs and get to nationals this year.”
Leading the way are the Huskies’ women’s and men’s wrestling teams – ranked No.1 and No.2 in the country, respectively – as well as the Huskie women’s basketball team, with a perfect 10-0 record and expected to move up from No.2 to No.1 in the next U SPORTS Top 10 rankings on Jan. 9.
“Wrestling is always strong and that is a testament to the hard work being done in that program,” said Chinn, crediting the work ethic of the student-athletes in head coach Daniel Olver’s wrestling program and the women’s basketball program led by head coach Lisa Thomaidis and lead assistant Laura Dally. “And Lisa and Laura are doing such a great job with our women’s basketball team. That is such a tightly knit group of women and they have so much depth this year that every night someone else steps up to be the star of the game.”
Women’s basketball has a bye week this weekend before hosting the UBC-Okanagan Heat Jan. 12-13 at Ron and Jane Graham Centre Court in the Physical Activity Complex. Meanwhile, the Huskie wrestling teams will return to action in Edmonton on Jan. 12-13 by battling the Alberta Golden Bears and Pandas and the Calgary Dinos in a showcase of three of the top four ranked teams in the country in both men’s and women’s wrestling.
Meanwhile, it’s a battle of 9-3 teams for first place in the Canada West conference this Friday and Saturday night at the PAC when the Huskie men’s volleyball team – ranked fourth in the country – tangles with the second-ranked Golden Bears, while the Huskie women’s volleyball team looks to strength its playoff position in a tough test against the seventh-ranked Pandas.
“Being in our venues is so electric this year,” said Chinn. “We had over 1,200 people at one volleyball game in November, so it is a lot of fun to come and watch our Huskie teams play. The atmosphere is great and we are fortunate to have the support we are getting from the community and the second half of the season is going to be so exciting.”
In hockey, the Huskies resume the U-Prairie Challenge year-long competition against the University of Regina Cougars this weekend, with USask’s women’s hockey team – ranked 10th in the country with a 10-4 record – hosting the Cougars at Merlis Belsher Place on Friday night, with the Huskie men’s squad – ranked 11th in U SPORTS with an 11-5 record – at home to the Cougars on Saturday night. Both teams travel to Regina for a men’s-women’s doubleheader on Sunday at the Brandt Centre.
The unranked Huskies men’s basketball team went into the holiday break on a roll, improving to 6-4 after sweeping the third-ranked Winnipeg Wesmen on the road and looking to make a run in the second half of the season when they return to home court Jan. 12-13 vs. the UBCO Heat.
“Our men’s basketball team has beaten both the No.3 (Winnipeg) and No.4 (UBC) teams in the country this year, so they are on the right track as well,” said Chinn.
Meanwhile, USask’s talented track and field teams also begin the indoor season by hosting the Sanderson Classic at the Saskatoon Field House on Jan. 12-13 as they build towards the Canada West championships Feb. 23-24 in Edmonton, looking to clinch spots in nationals.
“We have some incredible athletes,” said Chinn. “That team is going to be in full gear this year and we are really excited to see them compete at home in January and see where all of our athletes are at as we look ahead to nationals.”
One Huskie team already guaranteed to compete in nationals is the Huskie women’s hockey team, which will host the 2024 GFL U SPORTS Women’s Hockey Championship, presented by Connect Energy, from March 14-17 at Merlis Belsher Place.
“We are really looking forward to that,” said Chinn. “It’s wonderful for our women’s hockey program to have this opportunity to host nationals. Bringing the other seven top teams in the country here to Saskatoon is going to be an amazing championship.”
USask student-athletes are also excelling in the classroom, with 122 Huskies in 13 different colleges named Academic All-Canadians for posting averages of at least 80 per cent or higher while completing full course loads.
“I think it shows the incredible work that our student-athletes have been putting in,” said Chinn. “And we have Academic All-Canadians from everywhere, from engineering to law school to nursing, from every college across the board, which is wonderful to see.”
HUSKIE HIGHLIGHTS: Huskie Athletics will join with all Canada West conference hockey teams in taking part in the “Stick Up for Pride Tape” initiative on Jan. 12-13, helping to promote diversity, equality and inclusion through sport by taping their hockey sticks in Pride Tape colours for weekend games … Huskie defenceman Gunner Kinniburgh was named to the U SPORTS all-stars who faced the Canadian junior team in an exhibition series Dec. 10-13 to help Team Canada prepare for the 2024 world junior hockey championship in Gothenburg, Sweden … Huskies coach Katie Dutchak and former Huskie national champion Hunter Lee both advanced to their respective finals in the Canadian wrestling national team trials Dec. 15-17 in Edmonton, coming up just short of earning spots in this summer’s Paris Olympics … Huskie Athletics will also host a Women of Influence Breakfast on Feb. 13, with all proceeds going to support female student-athlete scholarships. Stay tuned for further details.