The TRU WolfPack women's basketball team enjoyed its best season in Canada West in 2011-12.
That was, hopes WolfPack head coach Scott Reeves, a mere stepping stone for the program.
TRU will open its Canada West season on Friday, 6 p.m., against the UNBC Timberwolves at the Tournament Capital Centre. UNBC, which is based in Prince George, is new to Canada West this season, joining alongside the Calgary-based Mount Royal Cougars.
After years of building - six, to be exact - the WolfPack finally made the jump last season, going 9-9 and qualifying for the Canada West postseason for the first time. And although TRU was swept out of the playoffs by the Saskatchewan Huskies, it was a major accomplishment for a team that, just two years prior, had won only three games.
So where does the WolfPack go from here?
"The baby step would be to host a playoff game," Reeves said. "The progression . . . you have to figure out how to get there.
"From there, you want to make it to Canada West Final Four, and then nationals. Does that happen in one year or over two or three?"
Perhaps this will be the WolfPack's best chance to make that happen.
TRU still boasts a young roster, with three fifth-year players sprinkled among nine players in their first, second or third seasons. But those seniors are expected to do a lot of the damage for TRU, with Diane Schuetze starting at centre, Jen Ju at guard and Tracy Kocs at forward.
Schuetze, a 6-foot-3 Vernon native, was a second-team CIS all-star in 2011-12, finishing first in Canada West and fourth in the nation in points per game (18.6). She also was third in Canada West in rebounds per game (8.9), and led TRU in points in 11 of its 18 games.
But with 6-foot-2 centre Kailey Colonna having graduated, Schuetze could see a lot of double- and triple-teams.
"I think they're going to try, but Diane is a handful," Reeves said. "The great thing is we have (Ju) on one side, (Kocs) at the top and Taiysa (Worsfold) on the other side, and if you're going to double Diane, you're going to have someone open on the perimeter and those kids can hit threes."
Schuetze, for her part, knows how different it will be out there.
"It does make it more challenging - I had (Colonna) for safety and reassurance out there," she said. "Now, with one big, I have to make sure I know everything that's going on, including my fouls.
"I have to be aware of so much more."
Ju, Schuetze and Kocs all will start, with Worsfold and third-year Jorri Duxbury also lining up at guard. After that, it's a lot of inexperience.
TRU does have Rae-Maryse Laljee, who has two years of CIS experience with the Trinity Western Spartans but sat out last season after transferring, Dana Clarkson, who red-shirted in 2011-12, and Sara Malate, who got into eight games last season.
"Dana had ACL surgery and sat last season, rehabbing that knee," Reeves said. "The excitement and optimism of getting back on the court has fuelled her, and she has an excellent basketball IQ. I would look at her, depending on our matchups, to be one of the first off the bench."
Unfortunately for Reeves and the WolfPack, the preseason was exceptionally short. Although the team has been practising for two months, it played only three exhibition games - at a home tournament on Oct. 19-21.
In that tournament, TRU went 1-2, beating the Alberta Colleges Athletic Conference's Grant MacEwan Griffins, but losing to the Victoria Vikes and the Saskatchewan Huskies, both Canada West programs.
Ju says the WolfPack has a lot of "pent-up energy" and big goals this season.
"Every year we want to improve - we're never satisfied with what we've achieved," said Ju, a 5-foot-5 guard out of Vancouver. "We're always craving more and more success. We set the bar higher every year."
After seven seasons - six under Reeves - TRU finally got to the postseason in 2011-12. And while the WolfPack feels it has the tools to be even better in 2012-13, it knows the rest of Canada West isn't going to stand around and watch it.
"There are no gimmes in this league, and we haven't earned the right to walk into anywhere and think it's going to be given to us," Reeves said. "I'm optimistic, but I'm cautious."
FREE THROWS: Colonna's younger sister, Kassie, a 6-foot-2 forward, has transferred to TRU from the Lethbridge Pronghorns. She has to redshirt this season. . . . TRU and UNBC also are scheduled to play Saturday, 5 p.m., at the TCC. . . . Each Canada West team will play 22 games during the regular season. . . . There are 16 teams in Canada West, and they are divided into the Prairie and Pacific conferences. The Pacific Conference comprises seven B.C. teams, plus Mount Royal. The top four teams in each conference will qualify for playoffs. . . . UNBC is ranked 12th in the Canada West preseason coaches poll, with TRU seventh.