Emily Knauff

By Yvonne Zacharias - The Vancouver Sun - LINK to Story

LANGLEY — The Trinity Western women's Spartan basketball team is heading into the new year brimming with optimism after smashing past records in this season of hope.

Until now, the most games the team has won in a season is 13. The Spartans now have nine wins - including league play and tournaments - under their belts with 10 games still to go in Canada West in CIS. That's the most they have won before the start of a new year.

Poised to play Lethbridge Friday and Calgary Saturday, the team and their relatively new coach, Cheryl Jean-Paul, were working hard at it at a practice this week, hoping to pound out more victories to ensure a spot in the playoffs.

The team is tied for fourth in the four-team Canada West conference with a 3-5 league record.

When coach Jean-Paul was brought in last year, she was expected to change the culture of the team.

The Winnipeg native said she had to try to “convince the athletes that are here that there is value in hard work and self-belief and in a strong culture and that those things are part of a winning program.”

It has been hard work. And some heartache, too.

“There is heartache involved in terms of having to let some athletes go,” she said, adding she had to make some tough decisions to bring seven new athletes onto the team.

The results speak for themselves. “I feel that this year has started to prove that we're moving ahead and I feel I am developing as a head coach.”

Propelled by this year's theme of “discomfort in excellence,” the team was put through their paces in a tough workout at the Langley Events Centre where one student towered above the rest.

That was Laurelle Weigl from Stony Plain Alta. who stand at six feet, four inches.

Maybe it's the Alberta beef, she said jokingly, admitting that height is an asset on the court but it isn't everything. She maintains her natural advantage can easily be overcome by someone who is athletic and willing to work hard.

Like others on the team from the faith-based university, she feels that she was called here to play her part.

She came here from Simon Fraser University where she played on the basketball team for four years. Under NCAA rules which now apply to SFU, she was no longer eligible to play there. She didn't think she would play again but when Jean-Paul and a mutual friend approached her to come to Trinity Western, “I just really felt called by God to come here.”

Although the team has improved, she and others feel it still has a way to go. Its biggest problem, said Weigl, is consistency.

“Fourth quarters have been our Achilles heel in a way,” she said. “We tend to hit a slump I guess and the pressure of the fourth quarter in close games tend to overwhelm us.”

Emily Knauff, who is playing on the team for her fourth year, is excited by the possibilities.

She said Jean-Paul is a good communicator. “I think God has placed her here for a reason and it's going to be good to see where the program goes with her.”

While some days it feels as though basketball occupies 75 per cent of her life, she tries to balance it out with her faith. “I know that sport is a gift and He is a gift and it's something I enjoy.”

Last Updated: 2012-03-07
Author: Mark Janzen