When University of the Fraser Valley women’s basketball coach Al Tuchscherer wants to boost the level of intensity at practice, he has a simple solution.
He puts Nicole and Sarah Wierks on opposite teams.
Frequently, sparks fly between the siblings, who comprise the Cascades’ starting frontcourt. It’s not the product of ill will – it’s just that when you’ve got two players who are as gritty as sandpaper, it tends to create a bit of friction.
“They’re always out to sort of one-up each other,” Tuchscherer said with a chuckle. “Sometimes it gets physical, sometimes they chirp at each other a little bit. But it’s all good. It’s never from the wrong place.
“I’ve never had that dynamic before on a team, so it’s interesting, for sure.”
The Wierks sisters say they come by their competitive streak honestly. If their parents, Dennis and Debbie Wierks of Chilliwack, happen to be watching one of their road games online, they’re liable to yell at the computer screen if a controversial call goes the wrong way.
For the girls, that intense mentality means they’re usually leading the Cascades in bruises and floor burns.
“We just have a need to be wherever the ball is,” Sarah explained. “If the ball’s on the ground, we’re going after it. We fall so much.”
“We don’t fall,” Nicole interjected, correcting her sister. “We dive for the ball. There’s a big difference!”
Nicole, age 20, is the older of the two. In her third year with the Cascades, the 5’10” power forward is staging a breakout campaign – she leads the team in scoring at 13.3 points per game, and she’s second to Sarah in rebounding, hauling down an average of 7.0 boards.
Tuchscherer appreciates Nicole as much for her defensive ability as her scoring.
“She’s absolutely a lockdown defender,” he said. “I can have Nicole defend anyone in Canada West, whether that’s Diane Schuetze from Thompson Rivers, a big 6’3″ post, or Debbie Yeboah from UVic, who’s arguably the quickest point guard in the conference.”
Nicole’s success is all the more impressive considering she’s playing without the benefit of an anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) in her left knee. She’s torn her ACL twice – once during her Grade 11 year at Chilliwack Secondary, and again prior to her rookie year at UFV. Rather than undergo reconstructive surgery, she’s elected to simply wear a knee brace.
“Tearing it again isn’t really a risk I want to take at this point,” she explained. “If I feel I need to get it done after basketball’s over, I’ll do that.
“It gets stiff and sore sometimes, but that’s to be expected – it would get stiff and sore anyway.”
Sarah, a 19-year-old sophomore centre who stands 6’1″, followed her sister to the Abbotsford campus last fall, and was an instant sensation. She earned Canadian Interuniversity Sport (CIS) all-rookie honours after averaging 10.3 points and 8.8 rebounds per game. This season, she’s posting averages of 10.0 points and 9.5 boards. The latter total is second-best in Canada West.
Last season, the Wierks sisters helped the Cascades to an opening-round playoff upset of the Winnipeg Wesmen, and berths to the Canada West Final Four and the CIS East Regional.
This fall, the UFV women were saddled with some lofty expectations, as they were ranked No. 9 in the preseason. They stumbled out of the gate, suffering a sweep on the road at Thompson Rivers to open the regular season. But they’ve righted themselves recently – on Nov. 26, they upset the No. 5-ranked Alberta Pandas 68-67, and they took a 5-3 conference record into the Christmas break.
The Cascades will be looking to build on that when they return to action next week. They travel to Windsor, Ont. for an exhibition tournament hosted by the defending CIS national champion Windsor Lancers, Dec. 28-30.
Nicole Wierks said that performing well in those games would set a positive tone for the second half of the season.
“We’re really going to need to step it up,” she noted. “We’re really close as a team. We don’t just play for ourselves – we love our coach, and we play for him and for our teammates. We’ve just got to find a way to win.”