Print Edition: March 26, 2014
Hometown: Mission, BC
High School: Mission Secondary
Aieisha Luyken has become one of the staples of the women’s basketball program here at UFV during her five-year career. She is arguably the most dynamic female basketball player to ever play at UFV and is the first woman in Cascades history to receive consecutive Canada West all-star awards, playing a major role in leading her school from a 2-15 season her first year all the way to the bronze medal at nationals this year. Her contributions have set the precedent for all future Cascades on and off the court. One of the best passers in the CIS, Luyken finished on statistical leaderboards for her final two seasons, while her immediate post-basketball plans involve helping other people as she plans to leave for Antigua in May.
This past weekend was a great end to the year. Can you talk about the game against Windsor and then the rematch against Saskatchewan?
The game against Windsor was actually probably my favourite game of the weekend even though I sat most of the game on the bench. It was just so much fun — that atmosphere of playing the defending national champ [and] being on TV. The girls played amazing for the first three quarters, being able to keep up and playing hard the way they did, and I thought we kind of showed Canada in that game that we were definitely a top team and we deserve to be at nationals. Then going into that bronze medal game our coach [Al Tuchscherer] talked about how he had won previous bronze medals with college leagues and those games were kind of his favourite games as a coach. We went in there knowing that most of us had prepared for being in a medal game since our first year. We wanted to be there. We went in knowing that we could win. We played with conviction and confidence and the understanding that we weren’t walking away without a medal.
Did the game mean anything more to you because you were playing Saskatchewan, who had previously beaten you in the Canada West final?
That’s funny, everyone keeps asking that question. Not really; it was nice, of course, to beat them after they had stolen the banner away from us. But more so it was just the chance to play hard together as a team. If you look at our stats, everybody on our team contributed. It wasn’t just a one- or two-person show — it was the whole team’s effort to win the bronze and I think that’s what made it so special.
In terms of your personal career, what does it mean to you to be named a Canada West all-star in back-to-back seasons?
Most of all it just kind of reflects all the girls I am surrounded by all the time. I definitely wouldn’t have won any of those awards if I didn’t have such an amazing team that [put me] in the spotlight and [gave me] the opportunity to win those awards. It is definitely humbling to know people think I deserve a second team [all-star spot]. So it’s awesome.
You have been at UFV for five years — how has your relationship with Coach Al Tuchscherer evolved over that time?
Al is an awesome coach. One of the reasons I came to UFV was definitely because of Coach Al. I was lucky enough to be coached by him a summer before, while I was still in high school with the Junior Cascades program. He just gives so much freedom for you to grow as an athlete and a person on and off the court. It’s not so much “his way or the highway,” he listens to what you have to say and takes your two cents and moulds the team around each of our needs. That is what I think makes our team so successful and why we have such a cool relationship.
As a first year, you came in with Courtney Bartel and Nicole Wierks who had played high school together. Did you know them prior to coming to UFV?
The first time [I met Nicole] was at our first practice, [but] I had played with her younger sister [Sarah Wierks], Courtney, and Samantha [Kurath] on the same Junior Cascades team, which also included Kayli Sartori, Kaitlyn Brink, Tessa Hart, and Jaslyen Singh.
Was that a big reason why you chose to play at UFV?
I actually had no idea who was coming here before I decided. I kind of narrowed it down and it was between UBC, Calgary, and here. I talked to one of my coaches and one of my mentors [that] I was working with at the performance center. I told him what I was looking for in a school and he looked at me and said, “Well, I think you’ve already decided on a school — you just haven’t said it yet.” Sure enough, it was UFV. I wanted a family atmosphere; I wanted my mom and dad to be able to come to my games. My dad ended up getting the opportunity to coach me, which was awesome. I also just got to be a part of this community — [it’s] like you’re at home every time you’re here, which is awesome.
You talked about your dad coaching. What was that like?
It was pretty awesome — obviously here his role is a little bit different. He wasn’t the head coach; he was the assistant. It made our relationship even stronger. There was me and him hanging out outside of practice working on skills and looking at film together and talking about that. Whereas before we kind of tried to separate basketball and home just so we could get a break from it.[pullquote]“[Like] at nationals in the bronze medal game having Sarah Wierks hit her first three-pointer with a hook-shot and it banking in. Our team is full of memories.”[/pullquote]
The first season you were here was obviously a very tumultuous season when the team went 2-15. How amazing was it to have this growth over the years and now be the third best team in the country?
After that season we had a team meeting like we always do, usually a couple weeks after the season. Coach made us go down to watch a couple playoff rounds at UVic [to watch] UVic and Saskatchewan play. We took the trip over just to watch games. He told us we needed to watch to see what it [takes] to get to that level and to see what the atmosphere [is] like. After that meeting, we all decided that we never wanted to see the playoffs like that again — never, ever. That summer is probably the hardest we have ever worked: we were in the gym, we were hitting the weights, and we were together 24/7. From our first year to our last year … taking a step forward every year was definitely our goal.
Do you feel for next year you are leaving the program in good hands?
Definitely — I am actually really excited for the program once I leave. Since it has been such a core group of us that have been here for five years it will be nice to have some fresh faces step up and see where they take the program next. We have some high standards now, so hopefully they exceed them and hopefully bring home a national championship.
It must be bittersweet to think that you can’t have one more year to try.
Yeah, it definitely sucks. Sometimes you think, “what would happen if I had another year?” At the same time it’s nice to kind of move on and see what else the world holds. It gives the opportunity for the other girls to be the seniors, fill the shoes, and see what they can do with the program.
If you could say something to the girls in the locker room, what would say?
Definitely don’t hold anything back, the five years is a privilege — not many girls get the opportunity to play at the highest level possible and to be surrounded by the most amazing girls and the most amazing coaches. It is such an incredible journey and you don’t really realize it until you’re done — just make sure you’re appreciating every second on the court and off the court.
Obviously your favorite memory is winning a bronze medal at nationals this year, but from your other seasons are there any memories that stick out in your mind?
I know for our first year, one of my favourite memories is when we went to Regina and Brandon. We played Regina the first night and we were doing really well (only down by one at halftime), [though] we ended up losing by a lot — that was like the story of the year. That night we were waiting for the boys to get on the bus and our coach comes on the bus — I had never seen him as fired up as he was and he said, “We are winning tomorrow. We are not getting on the bus unless we win.” As we were heading to Brandon he said, “We are getting the W, and if you don’t do it you aren’t getting on the bus.” And sure enough that ended up being our first win of the season the next day against Brandon, which was an awesome feeling. Then we also took one from Trinity here at home. Other memories, I don’t know what years they’re from — they all end up kind of blurring — we’ve had double overtimes against UBC that were pretty insane, Tess Hart air-balling a three and Nicole alley-ooping it in to beat TRU by one. Stuff like that is what our team is known for — like crazy moments — even at nationals in the bronze medal game having Sarah Wierks hit her first three-pointer with a hook-shot and it banking in. Our team is full of memories.
What is next for you?
In the short term I’m going to Antigua in May to teach with the Champions of Health program here at UFV. This summer I am going to train and I want to try and go play in Europe professionally, so hopefully that works out — if not you will probably see me here coaching and finishing up a little bit of my degree.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.