ABBOTSFORD — Even in the best of times it’s a difficult proposition to put together a preseason schedule and know precisely the level of competition you’re going to be facing.
Factor in the uncertainties of COVID as well as the returning status of any number of opposition veterans forced to keep one eye on their academic clock, and you simply have to cross your fingers and hope for the best.
In the case of the young, talented and rising Fraser Valley Cascades women’s basketball team, set to open its Canada West campaign one week from today (Oct. 29) at home against the UBC Okanagan Heat, it couldn’t have gone any better.
And all that said after the Cascades won just one of three games packed into a tight and compact four-day window.
“I think it was a real key week for our squad because it worked out that we got three pretty heavy hitters, all in one week, and all three of them are looking pretty good for this season,” explained Fraser Valley head coach Al Tuchscherer.
UFV opened with a 97-89 loss Oct. 13 to the visiting Winnipeg Wesmen, expected to be one of the nation’s best in 2021-22.
The Cascades then left for Victoria to play a pair of exhibitions, opening on Oct. 15 with a surprising 57-46 win over the defending national champion Saskatchewan Huskies.
The next day, however, tasked with facing the host Vikes, who themselves had lost to the Huskies by the same 57-46 score two night earlier, fell 69-60.
Judging anything by comparison scores is a losing proposition, especially as it pertains to exhibitions.
Yet Tuchscherer thought the final two games were a perfect illustration for his impressionable bunch of what happens against two very good teams when you don’t bring the same amount of urgency to both.
“It was like a measuring stick for us,” began Tuchscherer, “where we would then to be able to get back into the gym for that two weeks leading up to the start of the Canada West, doing some tweaking and working on some things. So those games were absolutely crucial for us.”
After playing a loaded Winnipeg team tough at home, there was the expected jolt of adrenaline any young team has when it gets a chance to face the defending national champs, regardless of the stakes.
“They’d heard a lot about Saskatchewan leading up to that game and Deanna even said to me ‘I’ve been thinking about this game before I was even part of this team,” said Tuchscherer of his daughter Deanna Tuchscherer, the second-year forward from Chilliwack-G.W. Graham, who scored 19 points against the Huskies. “So they were all pretty excited to play a team of that calibre just to see where they stood. I thought they passed a lot of tests.”
Second-year point guard Maddy Gobeil added 16 in the low-scoring affair which coach Tuchscherer appreciated from his team’s perspective because of their overall level of compete and the lack of tentativeness they displayed throughout.
The next night, however, against a talented Victoria team coming off a loss to that same Saskatchewan team?
Victoria, now being coached by former longtime UBC lead assistant Carrie Watts, turned the tables on them en route to their nine-point win.
From Tuchscherer’s perspective, regardless of outcome, he did not see the same level of resolve he’d witnessed the night before.
“You have a game like that and it snaps you back to attention,” he said. “It’s ‘OK, we need to be prepared for everybody we play this season’. Victoria is a very good basketball team. There are no games you can take for granted. Those are easy lessons for us to take into practice, and I think even down the road, there were things that we will be able to fall back on.”
Rookie forward Julia Tuchscherer nonetheless posted a solid 16 points on 6-for-13 shooting to lead UFV. Gobeil added 14 points, Deanna Tuchscherer 10 points and guard Nikki Cabuco a further nine.
Tana Pankratz, the former Abbotsford-Yale standout, led the Vikes with a game-high 22 points.
In Abbotsford, much excitement is building around the potential Cascades women’s basketball, especially with Deanna Tuchscherer and Gobeil, now the leaders of the team following the gradation of all-everything Taylor Claggett in 2019.
Both took the unusual step of embarking on pro careers in Europe last season, as the Canada West and U SPORTS eventually cancelled all play.
And now, both are back, as seasoned as third-year university students in their second year of eligibility could be given the global climate.
That much seemed apparent to coach Tuchscherer as he watched the energy both Gobeil and Deanna Tuchscherer brought in the Saskatchewan game, especially when matched against two of Canada’s premier university talents in the Huskies fifth-year pair of point guard Libby Epoch and forward Summer Masikewich.
“It was so good for them to experience that level of competition against that calibre of play, and I enjoyed watching them step up to the plate and deliver in that game,” the coach added.
Following UFV’s 6 p.m. on Oct. 29 against UBC Okanagan, it wraps up its first weekend homestand with a 5 p.m. game Oct. 30 against Prince George’s UNBC Timberwolves.
The UFV men’s team also debuts the same two days against the same two schools, facing UBC Okanagan at 8 p.m. and UNBC at 7 p.m. Those games will mark the Canada West conference debut of Fraser Valley head coach Joe Enevoldson.
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