UFV’s Nicole Wierks (10) is one of the nation’s elite defenders

UFV’s Nicole Wierks (10) is one of the nation’s elite defenders

UFV women’s hoopsters ready for national stage

As his team prepares to head off to its first-ever CIS national championship, Al Tuchscherer know they can't afford any stage fright.

As his team prepares to head off to its first-ever Canadian Interuniversity Sport (CIS) national championship, Al Tuchscherer know they can’t afford any stage fright.

The University of the Fraser Valley women’s basketball coach believes his group has the chops to contend for the title – and they do, having occupied a nosebleed-high spot in the national rankings all season.

But Tuchscherer also knows the Cascades need to play with an aggressive edge from tip-off to final buzzer every game at nationals, which run Friday through Sunday at the University of Regina.

“That’s been a major theme for us – being in attack mode at both ends of the floor,” he said, reflecting on the conversations he’s had with his team leading up to nationals. “When we do that, it opens doors for us. When we play tentative, it opens doors for the opposition.

“When we’re fully engaged with that aggressive idea, you see us being quite dominant.”

At first glance, the seedings for the national tournament look a little odd. The Cascades are No. 7 in the eight-team draw, despite the fact they haven’t been ranked lower than No. 4 in the national coaches’ poll all season.

The UFV women were No. 3 in the last CIS rankings, which is higher than four teams seeded above them at nationals – including their first-round opponent, the Saint Mary’s Huskies. The Halifax squad, which won the Atlantic University Sport conference title, was No. 4 in the final CIS poll, but they’re the No. 2 seed at nationals.

Tuchscherer, though, has no beef.

“I think they’re fair, to be honest,” he said. “We’re the third team out of Canada West, and they have guidelines they use for the seeding. All the conference champions have to be in the top six, and they want to avoid first-round match-ups between teams from the same conference.

“The rankings don’t really reflect the seedings in a tournament like this.”

Saint Mary’s represents a stiff test for the Cascades in the first round on Friday (8:30 p.m. Central time, 6:30 p.m. Pacific).

The Huskies boast the nation’s leading scorer in guard Justine Colley – her 28.2 points per game were more than seven points ahead of her closest pursuer, and she’s the frontrunner to win the CIS player of the year award.

“She can shoot the ball, she can attack the hoop, she rebounds, she posts up a little bit,” Tuchscherer said of Colley, who played for the Canadian senior women’s B team last summer. “A real special player there.”

The Cascades counter with an elite defensive player in Nicole Wierks. Nominally UFV’s power forward, the versatile 5’10” Wierks can guard all five positions on the floor, and Tuchscherer has called her the best defender in the Canada West conference.

“She’ll for sure start on Colley,” Tuchscherer said, noting that Wierks has guarded a who’s-who of elite Canada West scorers, including UBC’s Kris Young, Regina’s Michelle Clark and UVic’s Debbie Yeboah.

“Nicole gets really excited about those types of challenges, and she’s going to have her hands full this weekend.”