Wierks winding up record-setting career

Only a handful of regular season, and hopefully playoff, games remain for Sarah Wierks at the University of the Fraser Valley.

A familiar sight has UFV’s Sarah Wierks beating two opponents to a rebound during a CIS basketball game. The Chilliwack secondary school grad just climbed up to second spot on the Canada West all-time rebounding list with 945 boards.

She says it with such a straight face, with such conviction, that you almost believe it’s true.

When Sarah Wierks says she never looks at her stats with the University of the Fraser Valley basketball team, you want to take her at her word.

But, how can you?

How can you believe that the Chilliwack secondary school grad, perhaps the best player in University of the Fraser Valley’s womens’ basketball history, didn’t know she was re-writing the school’s record book?

That’s her story and she’s sticking with it.

“I didn’t even know about some of this stuff until the Christmas break when you started emailing me,” she said to the friendly neighborhood sports writer. “I have this rule that I don’t look at stats. The only exception is I need to make sure I average at least 10 rebounds in each game. Other than that I don’t care about my stats.”

Wierks pulled down 18 rebounds in a 70-67 win over UBC-Okanagan last Friday, moving into second place on the all-time Canada West rebounding list.

She added another 19 Saturday night in the rematch, won 77-65 by her Cascades.

She’s now got a whopping 945.

“I used to track things when I was in high school, but at some point I just felt stat-tracking was taking away from the team aspect,” she explains. “When I’m focusing less on myself and more on my team, we tend to have more success in both areas.”

The funny thing about Wierks, as is the case with many great athletes, is she struggles to explain how she does what she does. She ascribes most of her rebounding success to intangibles, a burning desire to get to the ball first, to want it more than her opponents.

The technical aspects come to her by instinct, honed through hundreds of games and practises.

“It’s one of those things I don’t have to think about, but if I’m really forced to think about how I do it, I’d say it’s pretty much a hustle play,” she says. “If you’re willing to put in the effort to get it, probably 90 per cent of the time you get it.”

A big piece of paper is put in front of her and she’s handed a pen. She sketches a hoop, key and three-point arc.

“Knowing your positioning around the hoop when a shot goes up is so important, and I’m usually in the post, somewhere in this vicinity,” she continues, pointing at the key. “You almost always try to set up on the opposite side from where the shot is coming from, because it’s usually going to bounce off the back-board or rim and come right to you.”

An athletic six foot one, with a six foot wingspan, Wierks has a physical edge on many opponents.

But again she circles back to the mental side, saying her instincts and desire, not her size, give her the biggest advantage.

“I am tall, long and quick and it really does help me,” she admits. “But I don’t know if rebounding is a skill you can teach, almost. When everything else in my game doesn’t seem to be working, I can always rely on rebounding. And I honestly don’t have an explanation for it.”

Maybe it has something to do with her sister, Nicole, and the rivalry they forged on Fraser Valley basketball courts.

Teammates for four seasons at UFV, the sisters were happy torching CIS opponents, but even happier playing intensely competitive games of one-on-one.

“We used to just get after each other on the floor,” Sarah laughs. “Maybe that’s where it comes from. That’s where I got that will to get to the ball before anyone else.”

Nicole was nearly as dominant at the university level, in a different way. The older sister’s  stat lines were a little heavier on points and a little lighter on rebounds.

Given a choice between a 15-point-15-rebound night that are more characteristic of her career and the  25-point-five-rebound nights that Nicole routinely put up, Sarah pauses.

“That is tough,” she winces. “But as long as I’m doing my job in the post I guess I’m happy with my game.”

Now that she knows about the CIS rebounding record and how high on the list she’s climbed, Wierks is happy about it.

As she prepares to graduate this spring and move on to grad-school in California, she’s happy to know she’s left a mark.

“I wanted to take something away from my career that I’m personally proud of,” she says. “It’s nice, it’s cool, to be in the record book for something.”

Soon, Wierks will be leaving basketball behind as she moves to San Jose to study at the Palmer College of Chiropractic.

Beyond any personal achievements, she’s proudest of what UFV has accomplished during her five years. The Cascades became a dominant force, powered by Chilliwackians like the Wierks sisters, Courtney Bartel, Alexa McCarthy and Kayli Sartori.

“My first year we played in Winnipeg, which was the second ranked team in Canada, and we were a total underdog that wasn’t even ranked,” Wierks says. “Nothing could go wrong for us in that game and we beat them. That’s my favourite game.”

“But more than wins and losses I think I’ll remember the people I played with and how much fun we had on the road,” she continues. “I hope the people I played against remember me as someone they hated to play against. It’s a sign of respect and I hope they feel that way about me.”

Wierks will say her public goodbye on senior night.

In just over two weeks her team will wrap up its regular season schedule at home, with a game Feb. 14 against Thompson Rivers University at Abbotsford’s Envision Athletic Centre.

Each year the school recognizes its departing players.

Speeches are made.

Tears flow.

Wierks doesn’t seem the type to enjoy that sort of thing.

“I thought about it a bit and I don’t know if it’ll be emotional or not,” she says. “We are an emotional family. We can’t get through a movie without crying. It was a big emotional thing when Courtney and Nicole left, and this will be sad. But this is just a chapter of my life that’s closing. I’m ready to move on.”

And her final advice for the players who will remain once she is gone?

“Do your own thing and don’t worry too much about what your fans, or coaches or other players think,” she says. “I struggled with my confidence at times when things weren’t going well. But trying to go with the flow and stay positive whether we won or lost really helped me find my way again when I got into those ruts. I always knew I’d bounce back, and that’s the advice I’d give to the younger players.”

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