The Spartans have officially arrived on the university women’s basketball scene in B.C. After splitting a pair of games with the Calgary Dinos over the weekend, Trinity Western University is now 11-3, 3rd place in the conference. This is uncharted territory for a program that has struggled to find their footing in the ultra competitive Canada West, until the past few years. Last season the Spartans finished 12-8, and won their first-ever playoff round. This season TWU is building on that success, and look like they could be ready to be a contender with the best schools in the country. It’s an impressive feat for head coach Cheryl Jean-Paul, especially considering where the program was when she took over.
Head Coach Cheryl Jean-Paul. Scott Stewart/Trinity Western Athletics
In her Jean-Paul’s first season at the helm of the Spartans in 2010-2011, TWU went 3-21, and the road to respectability has taken some time. “As a young naive coach I thought this was going to happen years ago, and you get through your first season and you realize you know, this is going to be a lot harder than I thought,” she admits. But while the losses mounted early in her Spartans coaching career, her faith never wavered. “For me, I think my faith has been a part of this process the whole way through. I don’t think that you can go through as many seasons as we did, losing as often as we did without that faith of serving a greater purpose than just basketball games.”
Until this weekend the Spartans had been unbeatable on home court. Saturday night’s 84-52 loss to Calgary at the Langley Event Centre snapped a 10 game home win streak for Trinity to start the season. Jean-Paul says the winning has been not only great for the team, but also their fanbase. “It’s really nice for us to be able to experience that at home. You know our fans who have been following us for a lot of years have seen a lot of losses at home, and so it’s really nice to come into the gym with an expectation of at least playing well, and that’s part of the culture that’s changed and it’s exciting to see that.”
Last year was a groundbreaking season for the Spartans. They went 12-8 and hosted their first ever playoff series, in which they defeated the Brandon Bobcats in three games. It was a win that Jean-Paul says really marked a turning point in the program’s history.
“WE ALWAYS WENT INTO GYMS THINKING THAT WE COULD LOSE EVERY GAME WE PLAYED UNTIL WE WON A PLAYOFF GAME. AND I THOUGHT THAT WAS SOMETHING THAT WAS UNIQUE. THAT WAS THE FIRST TIME THAT OUR PROGRAM HAD EVER WON A PLAYOFF GAME AND I SAW A DIFFERENT LOOK IN THE EYES OF THE PLAYERS.”
4th Year Tessa Ratzlaff. Scott Stewart / Trinity Western Athletics
This year the Spartans are out to prove they deserve the same respect as the perennial power houses in women’s hoops in this province. Earlier this season the Spartans beat the Thunderbirds, at UBC. The 75-71 overtime thriller marked the first time began to make people notice. Prior to that game they were 3-45 all time versus the T-birds since joining the league in 1999.
This season’s Spartans team is fuelled by the drive and passion of their veteran leaders. Fourth-year forward Tessa Ratzlaff is fifth in CanWest scoring, averaging 17.5 points per game, while senior forward Kayla Gordon is averaging close to a double-double, dropping 13.5 points and 9.6 rebounds per contest. They lead a talented team that is finally making their mark, and their head coach thinks their years together are a big reason for this season’s success. “I would say that every program moves in cycles and we’re coming to the peak of this cycle that we’re in. We have a core group of athletes that have been with this program for three, four, five years, so I don’t have to spend a lot of time teaching the basics. They understand how I speak, how I communicate.”
As much the head coach is pleased with the wins on the court, Cheryl Jean-Paul says she is more proud of having a positive impact on a player’s life, and for those player’s to stay connected to the program even after they’ve graduated.
“It’s so exciting to see some of our former athletes come back as mentors to our younger athletes, and that tells me that regardless of the records when they played they experienced something special here that they want to come back and be part of, and that’s not on a stat sheet. That is so valuable, and ultimately that’s I think I was called to this school and that’s what I’m hoping my athletes take from this.”
“My challenge as a coach and as a recruiter is to keep building the foundation so that if this is a cycle that will end and we have to start rebuilding in a few years then we at least have this really strong foundation to start from.” A foundation that is looking like it’s built for a serious playoff run.
Veteran Guard Kayla Gordon. Scott Stewart / Trinity Western Athletics
Written By: Jon Kennedy