The University of the Fraser Valley basketball teams open the Canada West regular season on the road this weekend, as they travel to Kelowna to face the UBC Okanagan Heat.
The Cascades’ home openers are next weekend, Nov. 14-15, against the UNBC Timberwolves.
UFV’s womens’ team, still boasting some key Chilliwack talent, is coming off a preseason schedule characterized by a high degree of difficulty – playing four games against teams ranked in the top 10 in the first CIS national poll.
Head coach Al Tuchscherer believes that stands them in good stead as they hit the road to Kelowna.
“Our preseason schedule was extremely challenging, intentionally,” said Tuchscherer, whose team took on CIS preseason No. 2-ranked UBC, No. 6 Saskatchewan, No. 8 Regina and No. 9 Queen’s in exhibition action. “Now we’re going to see how that pays off as we start our divisional play. I think we’re a lot better now than we were six weeks ago. When you’re playing elite competition, you’re either going to get buried by it or find a way to get better. I think we’ve gotten a lot better.”
According to the Canada West coaches’ polls, both the UFV women and men are favoured to finish in first place in the new six-team Explorers Division.
The UBC-O women are pegged to finish fourth and Tuchscherer knows how tough the Heat play on their home court.
The Cascades are a far different team from the one that won the Canada West silver medal and the CIS bronze last spring, but the 2014-15 edition of the squad still has the type of talent and experience to be a contender once again.
The Cascades waved goodbye to six key players after their deep playoff run last season, including starting point guard Aieisha Luyken, lockdown defender Nicole Wierks (Chilliwack) and three-point shooting ace Courtney Bartel (Chilliwack).
But they bring back a number of key veterans, led by fifth-year centre Sarah Wierks.
The Chilliwack, native was the team’s leading scorer in 2013-14, averaging 11.9 points per game, and her 8.1 rebounds per game ranked sixth-best in Canada West.
Between Wierks and third-year forwards Katie Brink and Shayna Litman, the Cascades’ frontcourt figures to shoulder an increased share of the team’s scoring load.
In the backcourt, fifth-year point guard Celeste Dyck takes over the starting job, and Hailey Kendall and Kaitlyn McDonald (Chilliwack) will take on larger roles as sophomores.
Nataliia Gavryliuk, a third-year guard/forward from Kiev, Ukraine, brings a playmaking flair and will be among the team’s scoring leaders.
Get more info online at ufvcascades.ca