LANGLEY — They are the kinds of numbers which, through the real-life rigours of a cancelled COVID campaign, seem even more distant and faded than they really are.
Yet ask Trinity Western women’s head basketball coach Cheryl Jean-Paul about the early signposts she has spotted with her Spartans’ club in the formative stages of the Canada West re-start, and she has no trouble contrasting it against stretches of that 2019-20 season.
And when you make those comparisons are made, it makes the team’s current 4-0 conference start so much more meaningful.
“Coming back from a season two years ago when you’re losing some of them by 30 points a game, it says a lot about the character of the athletes and how they had worked last year to put themselves into a more competitive environment,” Jean-Paul said earlier this week as her team continued to practice through a conference-wide bye week in preparation for a trip to Kamloops for games Nov. 26 and 27 at the Tournament Capital Centre against the Thompson Rivers WolfPack (0-6).
What the coach was referencing was, as part of a 6-14 conference season in 2019-20, a brutally-tough seven-game stretch from late November through early January in which the team went 2-5, with those five losses coming at the hands of Calgary, Saskatchewan and UBC by an average score of 90-49.
Coming on the heels of 16-4 and 12-8 records the previous two campaigns, it was the bridge season which led into the COVID shutdown.
Now, with a still-young but savvy core of players like post Nicole Fransson, and guards Kianna Wiens, Jolene Vlieg, Jayden Gill and Shemaiah Abatayo, the Spartans have an opportunity to tie the program’s record of six-straight wins to begin a Canada season if they are able to top the Pack in both games next week. TWU will then finish the first half of its season Dec. 3-4 with a pair of games against the host UBC Thunderbirds.
With this season’s schedule restricted to B.C.-only competition, every team will find its share of scheduling quirks.
From the standpoint of TWU and Victoria, it just happened to be playing each other for three straight games.
And after a narrow season-opening win at UBC, the Spartans somehow found a way to sweep the trifecta against the Vikes by tight scores of 73-66, 53-52 and 68-62.
For her part, Jean-Paul is hopeful that within that unique environment her team was able to take away many positives, including a level of scouting, scheming and overall chess more common with the post-season.
“Often times, when you’re playing a team in one game, you only have so much time to prepare, but when you play three times, you have to invest completely in that prep,” said Jean-Paul. “You try and find new tactics that will keep you sharp, and I think it really forces new players to step up in each game.”
Fransson, the 6-foot-2 post, was a constant, averaging 17 points and 11.6 rebounds in the three games, and point guard Wiens has done whatever necessary to get her team in the flow. The pair have remained the bedrock of the team’s respective front and back courts.
Vlieg, however, has continued to emerge, scoring 23 in the third game, while Gill and Abatayo, the youngest of the aforementioned quintet, also hit double figures in scoring throughout.
“At some point, I’d love for them to all do it in the same game,” laughed Jean-Paul, whose team started 6-0 in 2018-19 en route to a 12-8 regular season. “But until that happens, they have demonstrated that they can find ways to win, and not just by relying on a few sets of shoulders.”
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