UFV’s Nicole Wierks (10) and Courtney Bartel (background) are part of a class which has transformed the outlook of the UFV women’s basketball program.

UFV’s Nicole Wierks (10) and Courtney Bartel (background) are part of a class which has transformed the outlook of the UFV women’s basketball program.

UFV hoops preview: Last hurrah for ‘program-saving’ women’s basketball senior class

Al Tuchscherer has coached Aieisha Luyken, Nicole Wierks, Courtney Bartel, Sam Kurath and Tessa Hart since 2009.

Al Tuchscherer has coached Aieisha Luyken, Nicole Wierks, Courtney Bartel, Sam Kurath and Tessa Hart since 2009, and at this point, he’s pretty sure there’s nothing he could do that would surprise them.

That wasn’t always the case.

During the players’ sophomore season at the University of the Fraser Valley, the team came into the gym for a Saturday morning shoot-around, fresh off an extremely disappointing loss the night before. Tuchscherer was already there, wordlessly throwing basketballs against the wall.

He kept at it as his players started to wonder if he’d lost his marbles, then suddenly produced an egg from his pocket and splattered it against the wall. Players’ jaws hit the floor.

“It was pretty epic,” Luyken said with a chuckle, her eyes as wide retelling the story as they must have been when Tuchscherer smashed the egg three years earlier.

“He was like, ‘Now what do you want to be, the ball that bounces back, or the egg?’ And he walked away.”

The Cascades, properly focused, were victorious that evening – just one of many time-capsule moments involving the aforementioned five players that Tuchscherer finds himself mulling over more than usual these days.

Tuchscherer calls the Luyken/Wierks/Bartel/Kurath/Hart quintet a “program-saving” recruiting class, and it’s not hard to see why.

In 2008-09, the season before they arrived on campus, UFV posted a 4-19 record. The following season, the freshman core finished last in Canada West at 2-16.

But it’s been an upward trajectory since then, and in 2012-13 Tuchscherer’s charges staged a breakthrough. They were never ranked lower than No. 4 in the nation and even held the No. 1 spot for two weeks, won the Pacific Division title, and earned their first berth to the CIS national championship tourney.

This season represents the fifth and final year of eligibility for Luyken, Wierks, Bartel and Kurath – Hart redshirted a season while recovering from a knee injury, so she’s technically a fourth-year player – and they’re determined to cement their legacy with a legit run at the national title. They’re ranked No. 4 to open the season.

“We’ve got to make sure we’re playing with that desperation that we only have one year left and we’re giving it all we’ve got,” Luyken said. “Not just for our team this year, but for future teams and leaving a spark and an energy to keep building on what we’ve built.”

The Cascades dropped both of their games at nationals last season, and Luyken said it was “very upsetting” to find themselves watching from the stands as the Windsor Lancers and the Regina Cougars battled in the gold medal game.

“But it was the greatest learning moment,” she added. “It’s about the hunger. It’s not something coaches can teach – you’re seeing how passionate those girls are and how bad they want it. That’s the difference between getting to nationals and getting to that final game.”

The relationship that Tuchscherer has with his veteran fivesome is less like a boss-employee dynamic at this point, and more like family. They’re savvy to all his motivational ploys, even the ones that don’t involve eggs.

“They’ll see me getting on some of the younger kids at practice, and they’ll be in the background smiling or winking,” he said with a chuckle. “When I’m getting uptight, they know how to make me laugh – it’s a pretty neat relationship.

“I’ve really gone into this season just wanting to enjoy coaching them for one more year. I don’t want to miss out on that. We have some pretty special girls playing for us right now.”

NEW-LOOK MEN’S SQUAD

Tuchscherer’s familiarity with his veteran-laden squad is in marked contrast to the dynamic facing UFV men’s basketball coach Adam Friesen this season.

Friesen waved goodbye to a trio of fifth-year seniors – Sam Freeman, Kyle Grewal and James York – who were pillars of the program and helped the Cascades to the 2012 CIS national championship tourney and to the Canada West Final Four last season.

UFV does have some carryover – small forward Kevon Parchment had a terrific debut with the Cascades last season, finishing sixth in the conference in scoring (17.9 points per game) and 10th in rebounding (8.0), while shooting guard Klaus Figueredo emerged as a key contributor in the playoffs. And 6’7″ centre Jasper Moedt has transferred back to UFV after spending last fall at the University of Alberta.

But many members of UFV’s rotation are brand new, including starting power forward Kadeem Willis, who transferred in from Lakeland College and was one of the more productive players in the Alberta college league last season.

“It’s a totally new feel this year,” Friesen said. “It’s kind of exciting in a way, because everyone’s new to each other. Every day you can see improvements.”

The UFV men were ranked 11th out of 16 teams in the season-opening Canada West coaches’ poll, which is likely the product of the Freeman/Grewal/York departures. But Friesen believes that this year’s team has similar talent to the 2012-13 edition – it’s just a matter of sorting out the chemistry.

“We’ve got to make sure we don’t beat ourselves,” he said. “With a new group, sometimes your biggest enemy is yourself. If we make teams beat us and don’t do things to make it easy for them, I think we’ll have a chance to surprise some people this year.”

HOME OPENERS THIS WEEKEND

The UFV basketball teams open the Canada West regular season at home this weekend vs. the Lethbridge Pronghorns (Friday, women 6 p.m., men 8 p.m.) and the Calgary Dinos (Saturday, women 5 p.m., men 7 p.m.).

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