Ten years from now, when the subject of UFV basketball greats comes up, Chilliwack’s Kayli Sartori will be in the mix.
A second team All-Canadian in 2015-16, Sartori reserved a spot on the Mount Rushmore of Cascade b-ball legends with one of the most dominant seasons ever produced by a UFV women’s player.
Last season Sartori averaged 18.4 points per game to win the Canada West women’s basketball scoring title.
Ranking among the league leaders in every significant offensive and defensive category (rebounding/assists/blocks/steals), Sartori was named a Canada West first team all-star. She won Basketball BC’s Female University Athlete of the Year award and was a slam-dunk choice as UFV’s female athlete of the year, capping off a dream season that almost didn’t happen.
It’s true. You see, following her third year at UFV in 2013-14, No. 7 was ready to hang up her jersey and walk away.
She told head coach Al Tuchscherer she was done, heading home to work on the family farm.
“I feel like a lot of athletes, once they hit their third year it’s kind of like a hump period,” Sartori said. “Our season is pretty much year round because we start two-a-day practices in September, and depending on how well the team does we’re still going into March.”
“You get a month off and then it’s back to training and every year I was like, ‘I don’t know if I can do this. OK, one more year.’”
“When that third year came, I went to Al and said, ‘As much as it sucks to say, I need to do something else.’”
When Sartori stepped away she didn’t think she was coming back.
She wasn’t tempted to set foot in a gym or pick up a basketball.
Instead, she built things, fed cows, baled hay, ran tractors and harvested crops of hops. She bought three horses and re-discovered a love of riding that had faded away.
Most importantly, Sartori re-connected with her dad.
“He (Chris) was the guy whose hands built the farm and he ran it 24/7 while mom was with us 24/7,” she said. “Spending a year with him helped me understand who he was as a person and understand his passion for farming.”
“Our relationship has never been better and I don’t think that would have happened if I hadn’t taken a year off.”
“It was probably the best thing I’ve ever done.”
Sartori didn’t feel the slightest urge to return until one night in February of 2015 as she sat in the bleachers at the Langley Events Centre.
“I was watching the B.C. Boys AAA Provincial final for some weird reason and I was like, ‘Wow. Why am I not playing any more?’” she recalled. “I had completely wiped basketball away for a year until some friends dragged me to that game.”
“I don’t know if it was a switch flipping at that moment or what, but right after that I texted Al to see if I could come back.”
Through her first three seasons at UFV (2011-14), Sartori was a good but not great piece on a Cascades team that was solid enough to earn national bronze in 2013-14.
Those who saw her play high school hoops for the W.J. Mouat Hawks thought she was falling short of her potential. Looking back on it, she admits to sleep-walking through those seasons. When she returned to the court in 2015-16, she was a giant awakened.
“I was pissed off at myself for going through my first three years in a fog,” she said. “People thought I was going to do all of this crazy stuff coming out of high school and I just messed it up.”
“I didn’t train or play as hard as I should have and Al will say to me to this day that he didn’t think I was going to tap into my ability if I kept going the way I was going.”
During Sartori’s first UFV run she was surrounded by veterans like the Wierks sisters (Sarah and Nicole), Aieisha Luyken, Courtney Bartel and Alexa McCarthy.
When she returned she was immediately thrust into a leadership role, and Tuchscherer doesn’t know that she would have been ready for that responsibility without the year away.
“Al probably knows me better than anyone where basketball is concerned and if I’d had to ‘make it my team’ after the core group left I wouldn’t have been a good leader or a good teammate,” she admitted. “I was at a place where it was a ‘day to day’ thing, trying to get through one more practice.”
“When I came back my approach had changed and the girls sensed that.”
“I wasn’t just here to screw around.”
“When I came back I came back with a vengeance.”
Without Sartori in 2014-15, UFV went 12-8 and finished third in the Canada West’s short-lived Explorer division standings. With her in 2015-16, a resurgent Cascade crew went 13-7 in conference play. This season the team is 7-3 and riding a three game win streak.
At one point Sartori couldn’t wait for basketball season to end and now she wishes she could make it last forever.
She takes solace knowing her legacy will now endure long after she’s gone.
“I struggle with that word (legacy) because I consider that to be too much,” she said. “They say time will go by so fast, you’ll blink and you’ll be graduating, and I never really believed it until now.”
“I regret letting things slip by the first three years, but I am very proud of coming in last year and doing what I did.”
“I couldn’t ask for a better group of young girls to play with and lead and I hope they remember me as a player who gave it her all every day.”