ABBOTSFORD — Ten years after, there’s a new band of basketball teammates shining the spotlight on the Cascades’ women’s basketball program at the University of the Fraser Valley.
Precisely one decade after its most successful Canada West regular season, one it which it went 18-4 and was perched wire-to-wire within the top four of the U SPORTS national rankings, a similarly-talented Cascades’ team is making itself heard, this week moving up one spot in the latest national poll to No. 2, just ahead of Friday (6 p.m.) and Saturday (5 p.m.) home games against Prince George’s visiting UNBC Timberwolves (0-4). Conference mates continue to bring shine to the Canada West with Regina (4-0) at No. 1, Winnipeg (3-1) at No. 5, and Saskatchewan (2-2) at No. 10.
The UFV men’s team (2-2) also entertains UNBC (2-2) in games Friday (8 p.m.) and Saturday (7 p.m.).
“I feel like we are in a good place… good vibes, everything pretty positive, but it’s not a secret that most of the teams that we have played have been the younger, hungrier ones,” said UFV head coach Al Tuchscherer, his team coming off a home weekend sweep of Manitoba to sit at 4-0 in the Canada West (10-0 overall) following a conference-opening sweep a week prior in Edmonton over the MacEwan Griffins.
“We have not played the powerhouse teams yet, and those teams are all coming, but we like what we have done so far,” added Tuchscherer, the only head coach the women’s program has known over its 17 Canada West campaigns. “But we also know that we still have a lot of work to do to validate that No. 2 ranking.”
Fraser Valley’s freshly-minted No. 2 national ranking may appear to be a program-high to the younger portion of its fan base, yet it’s the 2012-13 edition of the Cascades which set a pioneering bar now a decade old.
As part of its program-best 18-4 conference campaign that season, a Cascades team led by the likes of its all-B.C. starting five of Chilliwack Secondary’s Nicole and Sarah Wierks, and Courtney Bartel, Mission Secondary’s Aieisha Luyken and Abbotsford-W.J. Mouat’s Kayli Sartori, started the season at No. 3 and eventually peaked at No. 1 over the first two weeks of January.
That team lost in 62-57 to St. Mary’s in the opening round of the national championships, but the 2013-14 edition not only made it back year later, but finished third overall, falling to eventual national champ Windsor in the Final Four before bouncing back to beat Saskatchewan in the bronze-medal game.
Besides the fact that Luyken and Sartori are with the team as assistant coaches this season, there’s other similarities with the current Cascades, perhaps most notably its own Made-in-B.C. starting five of Tuchscherer’s daughters Deanna and Julia (Chilliwack-G.W. Graham), and Natalie Rathler (Langley-Walnut Grove) in the front court, and Maddy Gobeil (South Kamloops) and Nikki Cabuco (Coquitlam-Dr. Charles Best) in the back court.
Yet while both forward Deanna Tuchscherer (15.4 ppg) and guard Gobeil (16.4 ppg) have continued to serve as the program’s foundational lynch pins, nothing has remained static within the team’s ever-improving schematic.
Big games locally against Trinity Western and UBC, as well as national tests against the likes of Winnipeg and Saskatchewan await.
With that in mind, here’s three big reasons the UFV Cascades women’s team has been able climb to the No. 2 spot in the U SPORTS national rankings:
1 A STUDENT OF THE GAME
She played alongside three of her generation’s most prolific players in Tavia Rowell, and sisters Jessica and Sophia Wisotzki during a decorated high school career with Langley’s Walnut Grove Gators.
Now, five years later, the 6-foot, fourth-year forward Natalie Rathler seems to have discovered her true identity on the court.
“The No. 1 thing for us has been the evolution of Nat in that she has really exceeded anyone’s expectations in what she is doing at both ends of the floor,” Tuchscherer says of the former lacrosse player who has refined her front court skills to the point where she not only brings toughness inside, but touch and finesse facing the basket as well.
“When she got here (in 2018-19) we encouraged her to play physical, to go and rebound, to set screens and to keep things simple for herself,” added Tuchscher of Rathler who this season is averaging 12 points and 7.8 rebounds per game. “But now she has a really deep understanding of the game. Her offensive skills developed to a point where this past summer I told her that while it was great that she wanted to continue to play with reckless abandon, that she needed to tone that part of her game down and understand that she is a pretty skilled player. It’s helped her take a huge step this season.”
2 AHEAD OF HER TIME
Julia Tuchscherer, the 6-foot-2, second-year post, arrived at UFV a year ahead of schedule, spending what would have been her Grade 12 year at G.W. Graham Secondary, learning the ropes of U SPORTS hoops.
In 2021-22, she showed herself to be a player ahead of her time, averaging 8.9 points and 5.5 rebounds per game and even stepping up by making 13 starts for the Cascades.
“She’s still young, this should be her freshman year, but the Julia you are seeing is much more consistent,” her dad explains. “She is turning herself into a bit of a force (in the paint) and this past weekend, she was filling the stat sheet.”
She was at that. To the tune of near back-to-back triple doubles in a sweep of the Manitoba Bisons.
The younger Tuchscherer had 13 points, 10 rebounds and seven assists in last Friday’s 84-54 win over the Bisons, then followed it with 14 points, 14 rebounds and seven assists on Saturday in a 69-58 victory. In both games she had three blocks and she totalled four steals in the series.
“We think off her as a true post player, but what she has been able to do is extend that position,” coach Tuchscherer adds of a player who got great experience this past offseason playing on the B.C. team at the Canada Summer Games. “She can face up, play 15-to-20 feet from hoop and knock down shots from there, she’s a better defender, and she also worked hard on her screen-and-roll game this summer. She’s played a lot of basketball and she’s added a lot of depth to her game.”
3 “…SHE WANTS IT BAD”
Google Sidhu, that’s who.
Inside the UFV Athletic Centre everyone knows about the boundless energy of the Cascades’ 5-foot-6 second-year guard from crosstown W.J. Mouat.
Unheralded as a freshman, she was thrown into the line-up following an injury to Maddy Gobeil in a Nov. 6 game at UBC last season, and all she did was log 42 minutes of in-your-face defence as the Cascades went to overtime and beat the host Thunderbirds 71-64.
This season, as the early season attempts to do its best to establish a bench rotation for the nation’s No. 2-ranked team, Sidhu is showing the UFV staff that she is a search engine ready, upon request, to provide any number of different results.
“This kid has turned into a flat-out player,” Tuchscherer began. “She wants it bad and she trained all summer like she wants it bad.”
In last season’s debut against UBC, her highlights were all on the defensive side of the ball.
Tuchscherer knows that is a part of her hoops DNA, but he also told Sidhu not to be afraid of tapping into the offensive prowess she showed at Mouat.
“I told her that she needed to channel some of that stuff where she was scoring 30 points a game (in high school), that we also needed her to be a little bit of a scorer over here. It’s not good enough just pressuring the ball. And she’s getting it.”
In the team’s second win of the season at MacEwan, Sidhu had a breakout of sorts with 14 points on 6-of-9 shooting.
The team’s six-player freshman class has thus far been led by the play of reigning B.C. Quad-A MVP Lauren Clements of Port Coquitlam’s Terry Fox Ravens.
The 5-foot-8 Clements has gotten extended minutes twice over the first four conference games, and in each she has produced seven points, including last week’s season-opening 84-54 win over Manitoba.
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