As players on the University of Saskatchewan Huskies women’s basketball team prepare to write end of semester exams in the next few days, their grade on the court is clear.
“We really couldn’t have asked for a better start to the season,” said Huskies head coach Lisa Thomaidis. “It’s been a lot of fun, it’s been great seeing our players step up and compete at a really high level early on.”
The Huskies have shaken off the sting of a conference semi-final exit last February to the University of Alberta Pandas, outscoring their opponents 794-508 through their 10 games to sit atop the Canada West standings.
Compared to last season, Thomaidis has seen a new maturity and growth from her team which has allowed the Huskies to rattle off consistent performances throughout the lineup.
“We’re just able to weather the storm a little bit better,” said Thomaidis. “We’ve had some injuries and some people have been out for a few games here and there or not at 100 per cent, and others have been able to step up.”
The Huskies have been led by a trio of veteran shooters up front in Carly Ahlstrom, Gage Grassick and Téa DeMong, who are all averaging over 15 points per game.
After the way their season ended prematurely last winter, DeMong said the team funnelled that disappointment into time in the gym which is now paying off with victories.
“Practice will end and girls will stay around and shoot,” said DeMong. “We’re having fun together as a team right now.”
Saskatchewan’s run began in the team’s season opener on Nov. 3 against the Pandas, the very same team which sent the Huskies packing last year.
Inbounding the ball with 4.7 seconds left in the fourth quarter with the score tied at 59-59, Grassick received a desperate pass from Maya Flindall and knocked down the game-winning shot from beyond the arc at the buzzer — a shot which will stick with the Prince Albert product for years to come.
“It’s a one-in-a-lifetime experience, just being able to have such great teammates to cheer me on and everyone throughout our team,” said Grassick.
Grassick’s heroics not only gave the Huskies the improbable victory, but capped off a 20-3 run for the visitors to defeat the reigning national bronze medallists.
For Thomaidis, it was a late comeback which was won by Grassick but exemplified the Huskies’ ability to stay in the fight against any Canada West opponent.
“She’ll remember that for the rest of her life,” said Thomaidis. “For us that was such an exciting win and I think it proved to ourselves that we can come back from a significant margin when we can play defence the way we did in that game.”
Through the first semester, the Huskies have been able to rely on their depth more than in past years as they’ve been able to spread out their attack.
That’s resulted in players like Flindall, Logan Reider, Courtney Primeau and Andrea Dodig being able to contribute in a variety of rotations, taking some of the pressure off top scorers like Ahlstrom and Grassick.
“It’s absolutely outstanding seeing everyone being able to shine and hit their shots,” said Grassick. “As a player, you’re super proud of each and every one of your teammates.”
The Huskies’ dominance through the first semester has firmly solidified the team as one of the top contenders for a U Sports championship, as the ‘Dogs’ are currently ranked second in the country.
DeMong isn’t too concerned about national lists or undefeated records however, focused on returning the program to that elusive championship level.
“To be honest for our team, it doesn’t mean a whole lot to us,” said DeMong. “We were in a similar position last year and we know how that can go south pretty quickly.
With the second semester on the horizon, the message from the coaching staff has been not to get complacent and improve their consistency in the hopes of avoiding a similar playoff upset in 2024.
“I think they learned a lot from last year,” said Thomaidis. “We’re playing with a bit of a chip on our shoulder. We’re not happy just to be undefeated or ranked high in the rankings, we’ve got a mission that we want to accomplish. So I think it’s just keeping that in focus even though we have a little bit of a break here.”
The Huskies women’s team will return to the court on January 12 to kick off a two-game set over the weekend against the UBC-Okanagan Heat.