VANCOUVER — Olivia Morgan-Cherchas left her home in Kamloops for the weekend, pretty sure she knew where her basketball future would be taking her.
And when she arrived on the west coast Friday and not only vibed with the full house at War Memorial Gymnasium, but also saw the UBC Thunderbirds open the Canada West women’s basketball campaign with a 71-64 win over a Saskatchewan Huskies team picked as the Canada West preseason conference favourite, one of the most unique talents in all of Canadian high school basketball knew she had found her new home away from home.
“It was an amazing win, to beat the preseason No. 1 team,” said the 6-foot-6 rising senior forward with the defending B.C. AA champion South Kamloops Titans. “And it definitely solidified the fact that I want to come here.”
Morgan-Cherchas was speaking just after 4 p.m. Saturday, moments after officially signing with the Thunderbirds and giving longtime UBC head coach Deb Huband one of her highest profile recruits in nearly a quarter-century at the helm of the blue-and-gold.
UBC’s current front court rotation can best be described as a bumper crop waiting to happen.
On so many levels it already has begun to bloom with the rise of third-year post and Winnipeg native Keylyn Filewich who brings both power and agility to the position.
Yet the transition being made by newcomers in big guard Hailey Counsell and post-forward Tanis Metcalfe in concert with Filewich, second-year Madison Legault, third-year Dina Strujic and current injury-redshirt post Marcie Schlick gives Huband the perfect environment in which to challenge and nurture the full potential of Morgan-Cherchas, who has spent the past two seasons with the Canadian national team program’s U-16 and U-17 teams.
“It’s a terrific time for her to enter the program because we have a competitive group of posts for her to develop in practice against every day,” begins Huband of Morgan-Cherchas, coached at South Kam last season by Del Komarniski and veteran assistant Ken Olynyk. “But Olivia also brings an X factor. She brings another dynamic with her size, and with the exposure and experience she’s gotten with Canada Basketball, stepping into a group like ours which is already being groomed, will allow her to reach another dimension.”
Said Morgan-Cherchas of the opportunity to step on the practice floor with Filewich next season: “I am looking forward to being able to play against her because she is such an amazing post player. I’ll be getting a chance to learn a lot from her.”
Still 16 until her early December birthday, Morgan-Cherchas has played in 13 internationals for Canada, including most recently the U17 FIBA World Cup in Belarus this past summer where one of her teammates was recent Fraser Valley Cascades signee Deanna Tuchscherer of Chilliwack’s G.W. Graham Secondary.
With her solid base of international play and her growing role this upcoming season as a senior of influence on her South Kam team, Huband knows that Morgan-Cherchas is a player whose skill set is just now starting to blossom.
“For her to already be identified by Canada Basketball says that she stands out in a crowd,” continued Huband. “I think she is one of a kind and has tremendous potential. I also think it takes more time for someone of her size to develop.”
Patience can pay huge dividends and the raw tools are all there.
“She has great hands, she can score over top of people, she runs floor well for her size,” continues Huband of likely the tallest player to ever join the program under her watch. “Definitely she can change a game and I think she can contribute in every facet.”
Yet it’s not just about hoops for Morgan-Cherchas.
Interestingly enough, she admitted that she did not get a lot of Canadian interest, and that had to be largely based on the fact that those schools likely assumed she was U.S. bound.
And, in lock-step with that thought, Morgan-Cherchas said Saturday that almost all of her interest was coming from down south.
“It wasn’t too tough a decision for me because I had already made the decision to stay in Canada, right from the start,” she said, adding that one factor was based on her education. “It was also close to home, and I wanted to have family close by. And I know a couple of the girls on the team.”
(To gain an even deeper insight into Olivia Morgan-Cherchas, click here to read a piece Varsity Letters produced this past spring, relating to one of the most enduring images we captured from the 2017-18 B.C. high school sports season)
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