Friday, 11 September 2009

Top Recruiting class pushes TWU into upper echelon

It was by any standards a breakthrough 2008-09 season for the Trinity Western Spartans as the young CIS program was within a game of qualifying for the Nationals and garnered significant wild card consideration under first-year Coach Scott Allen, who built such a tremendous B.C. high school program over 15 seasons at South Surrey's White Rock Christian Academy including three B.C. "AAA" Provincial championships.

The Spartans won 14 of their final 15 regular season games, edged UVic 2-1 in an exciting Canada West Pacific Division semi-final playoff round before losing their next 3 games that mattered including a two-game Canada West Pacific Division final sweep at the hands of CIS Nationals finalist UBC Thunderbirds and then a somewhat-demoralizing 30+ point loss to Canada West champions Calgary Dinos. Although the Spartans lost two of their top four scorers to graduation, a five-star recruiting class arrives in Langley and defending Moser Award winner, 6'8" Jacob Doerksen, coming off a tremendous summer with Canada's FISU Games team, leads the way. Expect this team to be a perennial Top 10 program for years to come given the talent and how far they've already come.

Looking for a second consecutive CIS POY award, Doerksen is simply an athletic workhorse who has a tremendous nose for the rim and is a difficult check for virtually any defender in Canada. Doerksen's quick feet, strength and skills make him one of the best scorers in Canada. Teamed with Spartans top newcomer, 6'6" Tyrell Mara, TWU has a solid a one/two punch as there is in Canada. Mara, who transfered back to Canada primarily to play for Allen, his high school coach, is not an especially flashy player but gets it done as a defender and rebounder and scores in the flow of the game. Mara is a very high level "glue" guy and together with Doerksen up front at the 3 and 4 will provide very tough matchups for opponents.

On the perimeter, the Spartans lost to graduation arguably the best pure shooter the program has ever had at the CIS level in 6'3" Brian Banman and his deep range. However, 5'11" fifth-year guard Louis Hurd (Spokane, WA/Columbia Bible College) quickly adjusted to his first season in the CIS and showed, especially down the stretch when the games were most important, that he can be counted on to stretch defenses. Hurd caught fire in the playoffs from downtown and he has the added skill set of being able to defend the ball. Hurd is likely to be an instant-offense-type guard off the bench for the Spartans.

One area where TWU will look to find some depth is at the point where it appears 5'11" fourth-year veteran Dan Horner will likely start. Horner is a high IQ point who is tough and strong and his ability to penetrate the paint and make decisions will be key to Trinity's fortunes. Providing depth at the point could be 5'9" Elijah Nakagawa, a transfer from Columbia Bible College where he averaged 15.1 ppg, but he has been battling a hernia injury and will work to gain a roster spot. The Spartans also have 6'2" point Tristan Smith coming in from Fraser Valley, where he played a key role last season however Smith will sit out this season as a redshirt.

Another high impact recruit and likely starter is 6'5" Calvin Westbrook, originally from Vancouver Island via NCAA D2 Cal. State-St. Stanislas where he averaged 10 ppg two seasons ago. Westbrook, who will be counted on as a decision-maker on the floor, is a big combo guard/wing and a slasher who can also knock down 3's. Expect Westbrook to emerge into one of the better perimeter scorers in Canada West before all is said and done. Another transfer, 6'6" Nico Monachini, originally from Burnaby who last played at Yuba Junior College, has tremendous athletic ability which is usually on display at the defensive end. Monachini is a 3/4 who likes to attack the rim and get on the "o" glass.

Up front, the Spartans lost 14 ppg and significant veteran leadership in 6'5" Jamie Vaughan, who graduated. However TWU has several returning veterans and CCAA transfer, all of whom should push for time at the five spot. In 6'8" Lance Verhoeff, who averaged about 16 minutes per game last season and 6'9" Joe Vroom, the Spartans return a pair of tough post players who rebound, set screens and finish put backs when available. Along with 6'8" BCCAA POY Langara transfer Clint Wickham, this group should complement Doerksen and Mara up front.

The Spartans also debut an emerging talent in 6'7" Tonner Jackson, a strong (230 lbs) forward with explosive skills who is only 18 years old. Jackson, who redshirted last season, was one of Coach Allen's top players at White Rock prior to Allen moving to the CIS and the program expects Jackson, one of the hardest workers on the team, to develop into a potential program changer with his size and scoring ability.

With Moser candidate Doerksen, D1 transfer Mara, a solid D2 transfer in Westbrook, an emerging shooter in Hurd plus a much deeper bench, there is plenty of talent and depth at positions 2 through 5. Throw in the steady, veteran point guard Horner and the Spartans have a chance to compete for a Top 10 ranking all season and ultimately their first-ever spot at the Nationals.

TWU has sparsely populated pre-season schedule hosting OUA's Waterloo Warriors in October as their only CIS non-conference game however the Spartans do make a three-game swing through Utah in early November, playing at Utah Valley State, at Brigham Young and at Utah State.

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