Call it Extreme Makeover: Saskatchewan Huskies Edition. The defending Canada West and CIS women’s basketball champions have a whole new look for the 2016-17 season, presenting a fresh challenge for head coach Lisa Thomaidis.
“We haven’t been in this situation in a very long time where players coming in out of high school basically in first year are having to contribute and I think that’s exciting for them,” she said.
No longer with the team are former Canada West Most Outstanding Players Laura Dally (2015-16) and Dalyce Emmerson (2013-14) along with fellow vets Kelsey Trulsrud and Desarae Hogberg.
All four were starters last season as the Huskies won their first national title. The foursome’s absence makes the already difficult task of winning another championship that much harder, but the team’s resulting youth movement has an upside.
“There’s one thing with having a young team and that is you get to see improvement almost daily, so we’re improving lots and we’re going to need to for sure to get back to a level where we’re competing for a Can West championship,” Thomaidis said.
One player stepping into a bigger role this season is second-year guard Megan Ahlstrom, who understands what the Huskies need to do in order to be successful.
“We’re younger than everyone else but that’s where we’re going to make up for it, when we grind out hard presses, full court presses and everything. We’re just going to work our butts off and show the other teams what we got,” she said.
Ahlstrom may have only one year of CIS hoops experience but she used it to learn from one of the best shooting guards in the country.
“Laura Dally was definitely my mentor last year and I watched her, I practiced with her. All the things that she does, mostly off the court, or on the court, when we’re not even practicing, all the time that she gets in the gym is what I took away,” she said.
The Calgary native will fill out the Huskies back court alongside the team’s only returning starter, Latvian import Sabine Dukate, who averaged 13.1 points per game in her rookie season.
“I know that coach expects from me that I would be one of the leading players in the team and I have support from all of the girls. I think it will be a great season,” Dukate said.
Thomaidis is grateful for the stability Dukate’s presence should provide to the rest of the team.
“She’s probably one of the best point guards in the country and so when you have that on your team you certainly have a level of confidence and I think the players around her feel that, so it’s good to have her back,” the coach explained.
With Dukate serving as floor general the Huskies are eager to prove that while their look may have changed, their mission hasn’t.
“The goal is always the same. It’s always to put ourselves in a position to compete for a Can West championship and get ourselves to nationals, and this year should be no different,” Thomaidis said. “People have to play some different roles and others are going to have to step up but I truly believe this team has what it takes and in the end we’re going to be there.”