LANGLEY — If you’re a fan of Trinity Western Spartans’ women’s basketball, it’s OK to go ahead and admit it.
Yes, you counted up the losses which added up to an 0-7 exhibition mark, and you wondered just how much progress the Spartans were going to be making following a breakthrough 2017-18 campaign.
Coming off last weekend’s sweep at No. 6-ranked Regina, and riding the crest of the program’s first-ever 4-0 Canada West start, TWU head coach Cheryl Jean-Paul is delighted that the exhibition season provided its intended teaching moments.
“I said a few weeks ago that I wasn’t interested in finding easy games in the preseason,” Jean-Paul said Thursday morning in advance of its home weekend series Friday (6 p.m.) and Saturday (5 p.m.) against Calgary’s visiting Mt. Royal Cougars at the Langley Events Centre.
“I was trying to figure out how to be as battle-tested as possible heading into the Can West. I wanted to see the under-belly of this team and what it is that we would struggle with.”
The Spartans’ 89-55 exhibition loss to NCAA Div. 2 Western Washington in Bellingham may have been a beat down on many levels, but Jean-Paul calls it one of the most illuminating moments thus far in 2018-19.
“Western Washington was a blowout, and I let that thing play out a little longer just to see who would respond to adversity,” she said. “Every week we identify holes in our game and challenge them to be better than they were the week before. They are a group that is hungry to improve.”
One of the immediate benefits of going 0-7 over a tough preseason and then going 4-0 to start the season?
Trinity Western, 0-15 lifetime at Regina, trailed by a point when the second game of the weekend hit its stretch drive last Saturday, yet never panicked because it knew what it had to do.
“End-of-game situations have been sketchy,” Jean-Paul correctly observed of a common ailment afflicting most teams around the conference early in the season. “People have struggled to finish games well, and I think the fact that we were in rough situations in the preseason helped prepare us a little more.”
Indeed, after trailing by a point, TWU finished with an imposing 10-0 run to beat the Cougars 56-47.
“I don’t want to down-play how much losing Kyanna Giles impacted their play because she does a lot of everything for them,” acknowledged Jean-Paul of the tough luck the Cougars were forced to endure after losing one of their very best talents early in Friday’s opener. “But that is the nature of the Canada West. We are all one injury away from being a different team. But that was still a very good Regina team, a team that won the Canada West (last season) and got to the national semifinal.”
The Spartans got encouraging play from first-year forward Nicole Fransson as well as sustained consistency from third-year post Teanna Bradshaw among a host of others.
The core of Tessa Ratzlaff, Jessie Brown and Sarah Buckingham continued to lead the way, with Ratzlaff becoming the program’s all-time leading scorer over the weekend, passing former Spartans’ standout Kayla Gordon.
The Spartans, however, did not receive any votes in the national Top 10 despite beating the No. 6 team twice on the road. Jean-Paul’s reaction?
“To be honest, our preseason did hurt us in that regard,” she said. “But you have to make sacrifices sometimes, so if it’s being in the Top 10 or beating Regina twice, I’ll take beating Regina twice. The reality is, we want to make the playoffs.”
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