By Nathan Hutton (The Cascade) – Email
Print Edition: March 19, 2014
The Cascades women’s basketball team has accomplished the greatest feat in the history of the program; they have the national bronze medal and are the unopposed third-best team in the country.
The bronze medal caps off an impressive season that took the team to the CIS national championship tournament, which features the best eight teams in the country.
The Cascades were the underdog in all three games they played, but managed to prove their perseverance and skill level, defeating two higher-ranked teams. Their only loss came to the eventual champion and host team the Windsor University Lancers.
“I’m just really proud of the squad, and I think we played our best basketball of the season this weekend,” head coach Al Tuchscherer said. “We had the opportunity to play three top quality programs and just had a great experience in Windsor. I’m really happy for our seniors; it’s such an awesome way for them to finish.”
The weekend started with a game against the McGill University Martlets that the Cascades dominated, a 14-point win by a score of 74-60.
The Cascades shone through the play of both Aieshia Luyken (20 points, six rebounds, six assists) and Nataliia Gavryliuk (17-2-2). McGill had been the number one defensive team all year in the CIS, holding opposing teams to only 47.3 points per game all year long. The Cascades nearly scored 47 on the Martlets in the first half alone, and finished strong with a fourth quarter that saw them post over 20 points in a quarter for the third time in the game.
The Cascades didn’t only deal with the feisty Martlets squad, but also against their loud cheering section that was filled with McGill students and the school’s men’s hockey team, who were also in Windsor for their national hockey tournament.
After the game Tuchscherer assessed his team’s performance, the team’s finest on the national stage.
“I thought our ball movement was fantastic in the first half and defensively we forced a lot of tough shots, [but] we started to glaze over a little bit in that third quarter and they came at us super hard,” he said. “All our time-outs, [the coaching staff was] just talking to the girls about relaxing and having confidence in what we do and finding something to make it happen. They did, and I’m really proud of them. McGill pulled within four at one point and we got some big baskets down the stretch, and that’s a big veteran effort for us.”
The second game of the tournament would prove to be the most difficult for the Cascades; they had drawn the University of Windsor Lancers, the four-time winner of the tournament. The Cascades gave the Lancers all they could handle — though they would lose the game 65-45, UFV held them to their lowest point total of the entire tournament.
The Cascades put their best foot forward against the best team in the country; they even led by one point going into halftime. UFV struggled for the majority of the game with the Lancers’ full court press put on by head coach Chantal Vallée, but Tuchscherer countered with a zone defense that the Lancers had difficulty figuring out.
The Sasquatch player of the game was Nicole Wierks, who registered 17 points and collected a pair of blocks.
The final game of the tournament for the Cascades was against their Canada West rival the Saskatchewan Huskies for the national bronze medal.[pullquote]
“I’m proud of the way our players supported each other today, not just our fifth-years, but also some of the younger players that came off the bench. The legacy that some of our players are leaving is fantastic.”[/pullquote]
The game between the two arch-rivals came only a week after the two battled for the divisional title, which UFV lost. UFV went into the game knowing was the last time that the Cascades group of seniors would play together as teammates on one floor.
The bitter rivals fought back and forth all game, hardware and bragging rights on the line. Not only would this be the last game for a group of highly talented graduating players, but the last before a contested tiered division realignment comes into effect next season, with UFV and teams like the Huskies on unequal sides of the schedule.
The Cascades lost starter Sarah Wierks after she picked up two quick fouls, but the team’s depth helped to make up for the loss as Shayna Litman and Kaitlyn Brink stepped up. The Cascades trailed before going ahead just as halftime approached. Their lead never disappeared and the Cascades’ 25-point third quarter put the game out of reach for the Huskies.
After the game, assistant coach Sean Bosko complimented Tuchscherer and the Cascades’ group of departing seniors.
“This is something that Al’s been working hard to accomplish for years with this group,” he said. “When he started recruiting these girls that are graduating, he had a vision in mind for something like this. For them to realize that vision is very humbling for a coach. They never stopped believing in the vision that he set up for them, and here they are today as a top three team in the nation. I’m proud of the way our players supported each other today; not just our fifth-years, but also some of our younger players that came off the bench. The legacy that some of our older players are leaving is fantastic.”
The Cascades’ bronze medals are a victorious finish to the playing careers of Aieshia Luyken, Nicole Wierks, Courtney Bartel, and Samantha Kurath. UFV’s next season will be one of discovery.
With files from Paul Esau.
Photos by Ian Shalapata