Bringing focus to team basketball, UFV Cascades' veteran forward Natalie Rathler (centre with ball) locks eyes with hard-cutting teammate Alexis Worrell during a game against the TWU Spartans. The 8-1 teams meet for a pair this weekend in Abbotsford. (Photo by Gibi Saini property of University of the Fraser Valley athletics 2021. All Rights Reserved)
Feature University Women's Basketball

Cascades thriving on its “one tough shot” mantra! Canada West’s top defence keys empowering ripple effect as 8-1 UFV hosts 9-1 TWU in weekend summit series!

ABBOTSFORD — It’s an axiom which has echoed through countless Fraser Valley Cascades’ women’s basketball practices over the 20 years in which Al Tuchscherer has served as the program’s head coach.

This season, however, you could say in a figurative sense that those echoes have become deafening.

“We always say that we want to give teams one tough shot,” Tuchscherer told Varsity Letters this week as his team prepared for its biggest weekend of the Canada West season, buoyed by a defence which is holding foes to a stingy 27.6 per cent field goal percentage, tops in the conference and second in the U SPORTS nation.

“Not stop them from shooting, but just give them that one tough shot,” continued Tuchscherer, whose charges prepare to play host to the B.C.-leading Trinity Western Spartans (9-1) in Friday (8 p.m.)-Saturday (6 p.m.) games at UFV Athletic Centre. “And they have embraced it. They love making teams take those difficult shots.”

Fraser Valley Cascades’ Alexis Worrell (right) looks a skip a pass in action against the Alberta Pandas. (Photo by Dan Kinvig property of University of the Fraser Valley athletics 2021. All Rights Reserved)

Alas, nowhere was that statement more apropos than this past Thursday, when the Cascades faced the Spartans at the Langley Events Centre and held their hosts to 22.6 per cent from the field en route to a surprisingly decisive 70-47 victory.

Yet if you think this story is about to drown in a wash of statistics and schematic complexity, fear not because when you ask Tuchscherer about the origins of this defensive renaissance, the coach’s cheat code is about as simple as they come.

“You hear coaches say all the time that the players don’t have be best friends, just good teammates,” begins Tuchscherer. “But that’s the not the case with our team. They are all best friends. I guess you don’t need to be friends, but it sure helps make your team go. They all embrace each other.”

Boil it all down, and it’s the essence of the ‘one tough shot’ mantra, where each defensive rotation feeds off the next while choking down the shot clock.

It’s also the same way the Cascades celebrate the fact that they currently have two of the top 10 steals leaders in the country in the same backcourt.

Maddy Gobeil (15.8 ppg, 8.5 rpg) comes into play Friday third at 3.3 steals per contest, while Nikki Cabuco (10.8 ppg), the nation’s minutes-per-game leader at 37.3, sits 10th at 2.6 thefts-per-contest.

Yet other than the obvious talents each brings, in concert with fellow starters Deanna Tuchscherer (19.6 ppg), Julia Tuchscherer (9.4 ppg) and Victoria Jacobse (7.0 ppg), that most impressive take-away statistic is another example of the entire rotation helping to force a positive outcome.

“Maddy, Nikki and Lex,” begins Tuchscherer, adding the contributions of fourth-year Costa Rican import Alexis Worrell, “they have all emerged as really good defensive players and yeah, we get a lot of steals. But I think that is a real team stat in a lot of ways. It’s ‘What is the rest of the team forcing that person with the ball to do?’ Maddy and Nikki are always very alert to the ball, but sometimes, it’s someone else forcing the pass to help us get the pay-off.”

That entirely team-centric focus has had a ripple effect through the rest of the roster this season, and that’s something with has infused extra energy in the group in both games and practices.

“We had a talk a couple of weeks ago,” remembered Worrell. “It was about what it looks like for each person on this team to be the best version of themselves, and that each of us brings something different, whether that be off the bench, scoring, defence.

“When we all understand our roles, it allows us to not worry about stats or who we are playing,” added Worrell. “We talk about letting the game come to us and it’s showed the last few games because we have so many people with so many different weapons and everyone is a threat in their own way.”

And these days, that seems to include just about everyone outside of the principal statistical leaders, including Worrell, who last Thursday against the Spartans went 3-of-5 from distance and finished with a career-high 17 points.

There have been so many others.

Google Sidhu, a rookie guard, has epitomized the depth of the 2021-22 Fraser Valley Cascades. (Photo by Dan Kinvig property of University of the Fraser Valley athletics 2021. All Rights Reserved)

With Deanna Tuchscherer sidelined coming out of the holiday break, 6-foot forward Natalie Rathler proved huge against UBC Okanagan, leaving her previous career-best of eight points in the dust with a career-high 20, and then 13 points in a two-game sweep of the Heat.

Jacobse, the team’s lone fifth-year player, is playing her best basketball this season, and in back-to-back wins over Thompson Rivers first equaled her career-high with 12 points, then topped it with 15.

As well, hometown player Madison Draayers, a third-year from Yale Secondary, has knocked down a pair of key treys per game against both the Heat and WolfPack.

And finally, another Abbotsford product has shown Tuchscherer how much depth his team actually has.

First-year guard Google Sidhu looked like anything but the rookie she is back on Nov. 6, when after having played five total minutes in her first three conference games, subbed for an injured Gobeil at War Gym, playing 42 minutes with a scrappy line of five points, six boards, three steals and two assists in a 71-64 overtime win over the young Thunderbirds.

“It’s exciting to watch my teammates have these kinds of performances,” says Worrell. “We see it in practice, but then to see it in the games? It’s been great to see them all grow and shine.”

Which brings us all back to ‘one tough shot’.

At the start of the season, coming off a cancelled 2020-21 campaign and having lost almost all of his veteran talent, including Taylor Claggett, the program’s all-time leading scorer, and heart-and-soul defender Amanda Thompson, head coach Tuchscherer admits he had some questions that he wasn’t sure could be answered.

“Things change from year to year, and if you were to look at this year, it was a big question mark to me if we were going to be a really good defensive team,” he states.

“But as it has gone so far, the sum has been greater than the parts… they play well together. There is a high degree of buy-in, and you have to have that. It’s something this team really embraces.”

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