Aieisha Luyken is hoping that a whole bunch of small choices add up to a big breakthrough on the basketball court.
Since the close of the 2010-11 season, the University of the Fraser Valley point guard has re-oriented every facet of her life in order to maximize her potential as a player.
Luyken is a fixture at UFV's Envision Athletic Centre, whether pumping iron in the weight room or honing her shooting stroke in the gym. But that's standard stuff for a university ballplayer – Luyken's holistic approach took it a few steps further.
This summer, the Mission Secondary grad got involved with the Junior Cascades club program, taking on the head coaching role with the U13 girls squad in an effort to understanding the game from a different perspective.
Her approach to building her leadership abilities was both studious and practical. Not generally a voracious reader, Luyken plowed through several books on leadership from the office library of Cascades coach Al Tuchscherer. Her effort to become more outgoing also included stepping outside her comfort zone and greeting students she didn't know as she walked around campus.
Perhaps the biggest change was dietary. Luyken, a self-described "chocoholic," set aside her favourite sweets in favour of salad, in an effort to get into the best shape of her life.
Add it all up, and Luyken believes her third year with the Cascades could be a special one.
"I only get chocolate on Sundays now," she said with a chuckle, reflecting on her revamped eating habits. "Working on my diet was probably the biggest thing. I'd never been taught as an athlete how to eat properly, and getting the veggies in is important.
"I feel a lot quicker and stronger out on the court than I ever have. That's the No. 1 thing that's helped me out."
Lukyen, who led the Cascades with 111 assists last season while averaging 9.2 points per game, also had the opportunity to travel to Boston over the summer to participate in Point Guard College, an invitation-only camp that featured athletes from several NCAA programs.
Tuchscherer, who was in attendance as an observing coach, was pleased with how his pupil handled herself, and she was named one of eight "camp captains" – essentially an all-star team – at the close of the event.
Watching the new and improved Luyken throughout the preseason, Tuchscherer believes she's primed for a big things.
"She's asserting herself more," he observed. "She's such a powerful player – I don't think she understands how difficult she is to guard sometimes. As she starts to understand that, she'll really start to blossom."
The Cascades women earned a great deal of respect at the national level after making appearances at the Canada West Final Four and the CIS East Regional last season.
They began the 2011-12 campaign ranked No. 9 in Canada, but stumbled on the road last weekend as they opened the regular season, losing twice to the Thompson Rivers WolfPack.
Luyken said her team has put those disappointing defeats behind them as they prepare for their first home games this weekend against the Manitoba Bisons (Friday, 6 p.m.) and the Winnipeg Wesmen (Saturday, 5 p.m.).
"We're already thinking forward, and we're really excited to play this weekend," she said. "All of the great teams have seasons where they have a bad start and then finish up really strong. I think it was a wakeup call to everyone to bring it to the next level."