Cascades Q&A is a periodic web feature where we fire a series of questions (some serious, others not so much) at a Cascades athlete. In the crosshairs this week is Jessica Zawada, a rookie forward with the women’s basketball team.
Q: Give us some insight into rookie life. What’s the adjustment been like, both in terms of basketball and academics, from high school to university?
A: “It’s a lot different in both aspects. Basketball-wise, it’s a huge change for me. I went from being one of the leaders on my team to being a rookie. I’m not getting as much playing time as obviously I was in high school, things like that. I have to learn more how to be a follower, and I’ve never had that role in basketball. So it’s definitely been a learning process, but I definitely have so many great leaders to watch on the court.
“And school-wise, it’s a lot different, too. I kind of came into it like, ‘Oh, I’ve always been a good student.’ But some courses were pretty hard first semester! So it’s definitely different.”
You talked about that adjustment going from being the senior leader in high school to a rookie now. I’m curious what it’s like being a rookie on a team with a fifth-year All-Canadian like Kayli Sartori.
“Well, in the summer, having to check (guard) Kayli and Shayna (Litman) . . . I thought I was strong coming into this, but I’m not strong! (Laughs) I learned that pretty quick! Both of them are super-strong and difficult to check, and it was a completely new experience having to guard Kayli. It’s hard to describe. It’s just very difficult, but I know I have to do it if I want to get better. So that really sort of blindsided me. Playing against women is a lot different than playing against girls.”
You came from a very successful high school program at McMath Secondary in Richmond, and you’re one of three 2016 grads from that team to move on to play university basketball – Jessica Jones (SFU Clan) and Bobbi Jo Colburn (Calgary Dinos) are the others. To what extent do you keep in touch with and follow the careers of your high school teammates?
“We talk every day, my little group of friends, which is really nice – it’s hard being out here by myself. Bobbi, it was so weird playing against her (Jan. 12-13 in Calgary), because I’ve always been on the same team as her. But it was a really cool experience. We’ve always been really competitive against each other, so it was cool to be checking each other.”
That win over Calgary on the Saturday (69-60 on Jan. 13) must have felt good.
“It did! She wasn’t too happy about that one. But yeah, we definitely follow each other and love seeing each other. When we’re on the court, it’s completely different – we’re super-competitive and don’t let anything get in our way. But I definitely miss all my friends. It’ll be nice at reading break to get back together, because we all went our separate ways.”
I understand you live in Baker House on campus – what’s it like living in residence?
“It’s different – I definitely had to grow up a lot! My parents did a lot for me! (Laughs) So cooking and cleaning and doing laundry and stuff, that was a big step for me. But I’ve definitely become more independent, which I needed to do, so I’ve sort of been shoved into that. And my roommate’s awesome. But it’s sort of lonely – my best friends are my teammates, which is cool because I get to see them every day.”
I understand that Cascades coach Al Tuchscherer and your dad used to play high school basketball against each other. Does your dad ever talk about that? Does he remember Al?
“I think we just found out about that when I came to get a tour of the school when I was being recruited. We were on our tour, and it might have been the assistant coach (Sean) Bosko who brought it up. My dad’s team (the heavily favoured Richmond Colts) basically got upset (in the 1989 provincial AAA quarter-finals by Tuchscherer’s Pitt Meadows squad, which went on to win the championship). They shouldn’t have lost this big game, and I had definitely heard that story before, but I had never known it was my future coach who had upset him! It’s funny – they don’t talk about it that much, but every once in a while we bring it up and it’s a good laugh.”
You’re from Richmond, B.C. What’s one thing you can get in your hometown that you can’t get anywhere else?
“Good sushi, definitely, very good sushi! But where McMath is located is in the Steveston area, and it’s super-nice. It feels like a community with connection. A lot of my high school friends are from there, and a lot of my really close longtime friends are from there. It’s pretty cool.”
Friday’s game is your team’s annual Shoot for the Cure night to raise funds for the Canadian Breast Cancer Foundation. The Cascades have done this fundraiser for years, and it’s a neat way they give back to the community. What’s it been like being involved in that as a rookie?
“It’s awesome. I’ve always enjoyed being involved in things like that – I’ve done the Relay for Life, which is also for cancer. I also have a lot of friends who have been affected by cancer, so it’s something I’ve been involved in. I think it’s cool that we take initiative to raise money and come together as a team to do something that’s not just for ourselves, for the greater community.”
Tell me your most memorable road trip story so far this season with this group of girls.
“Hmmmm. It wasn’t a game road trip, but when we went to Whistler for our team bonding trip (in the preseason), it really was that – we all bonded. As a team that has so many rookies, we were sort of divided at the beginning, and it was hard to play with each other because so many of us hadn’t played together before. After that trip, I found that we totally meshed and bonded, and it translated onto the court. We were able to be friends with each other, and everything sort of connected after that trip.”
The Cascades basketball teams are in action at home this weekend vs. the Thompson Rivers WolfPack. Games run Friday (women 6 p.m., men 8 p.m.) and Saturday (women 5 p.m., men 7 p.m.) at the Envision Athletic Centre.