Views from the top: Huskies undefeated and the team to beat

By in Features/Sports & Health

As the clock ticked down on another lopsided win, the entire Huskies women’s basketball team celebrated their 12th victory of the season. Their last victory was on Jan. 16: a 91–53 rout of the visiting University of Lethbridge Pronghorns that was indicative of their entire season so far — a dominant and efficient offensive showing, lockdown perimeter and post defence, and a complete team effort from top to bottom which lead them to victory.

These, along with a few other factors, leave the squad with a perfect 12–0 on the season, which is not only top in the Canada West conference but also has them ranked number one in the entire Canadian Interuniversity Sport. This season is the first time the team has been ranked the nation’s top team since February 2011, when they were defeated by the University of Windsor Lancers for the national championship.

Although the faces on the team have changed drastically since then, there is one thing that remains the same — head coach Lisa Thomaidis. She is in her 17th season behind the Huskies bench and is a four-time CanWest Coach of the Year, as well as a two-time CIS Coach of the Year. As her team continues to rack up wins, she might have to make more room in her trophy case.

Despite her personal success, she says it’s the players’ effort and commitment to improving that has made this group so special.

“A big reason is we have a tremendous amount of experience. Experienced players who have been to nationals and experienced winning, so that’s just coming to fruition now and we’re really fortunate to have that,” said Thomaidis. “Even though we’re winning, I think we can always get better and improve on things. That’s always our goal, to be better today than we were yesterday. I think our veteran athletes and our leaders are very much in line with that thinking,”

A major part of the Huskies’ success has been their ability to play a complete team game. Unlike other schools around the country, the Dogs aren’t carried by just one or two players, but rather have a full starting lineup and role players coming off the bench, all willing to help out anyway they can.

There has been a trio of fifth-years who have led the charge so far this season. Dalyce Emmerson, Laura Dally and Kelsey Trulsrud have been the Huskies’ catalysts on both ends of the court this year and have taken it upon themselves to show the younger members of the team what it takes to compete at such a high level.

“They are great leaders and they are great people and they’re tremendous basketball players as well. They’ve had a huge impact on this team, but they’ve also had a huge impact on our program for the last five years. It’ll be sad to see them go, but we’re certainly relishing every moment we still have with them,” Thomaidis said.

Emmerson, a native of Prince Albert, was named the 2013 CanWest Most Valuable Player and has been a big part of the Huskies’ recent success. This season, she is averaging 13.7 points per game, 7.3 rebounds per game and 1.4 blocks per contest. She is a huge presence in the paint on both offence and defence and leads the entire CIS in field goal percentage, shooting 66.3 per cent.

Like many others on the team, Emmerson is quick to attribute her personal success as a result of the team’s hard work and execution.

“I have to credit the passes; I wouldn’t be finishing as well inside if I wasn’t getting passes right on the money. Being first has to do with the passes I’m getting and the places they’re putting me onTeam Scoring the court to be successful,” Emmerson said.

Dally and Emmerson both agree there is a responsibility, as seniors, to teach the younger players what it takes to compete at the highest level and leave the program in the best shape possible.

“I definitely feel responsibility. We want to set a good example of what it’s like to be a veteran and lead the team — also including everybody. We want to set that example for the up-and-coming players too,” Emmerson said.

“There’s a responsibility because you want the program to keep building. Just getting in the gym every day, working hard and doing the little things,” Dally added.

Like Emmerson, Dally is having a superb senior season. She is averaging 15.7 points per game and made a big improvement on her free throw shooting from last year, something she admits needed work.

“Those are the little things. I feel like when you go to the free throw line, you should be hitting them,” Dally said.

After shooting 74 per cent from the line last season, she has upped that to almost 88 per cent this year. The big jump is just another testament to Dally’s hard work in practice and her dedication that rubs off on the rest of the team.

Rounding out the starting five is Desarae Hogberg and rookie point guard Sabine Dukate. This is Dukate’s first year with the program, after moving from Latvia to join the U of S. She played professional basketball in Europe, which has definitely helped her transition to the CIS. Her name has to be in the running for CanWest Rookie of the Year, as she is averaging 14 points, 3.5 assists and 3.5 rebounds per game.

Thomaidis is grateful Dukate chose to join the Huskies program and can’t say enough about the work she has done with the team.

“She’s been a great addition. She has very high basketball IQ, she’s used to playing at a high level, she’s a very quick athlete and she can shoot the ball. She’s filled in very well coming in and being our point guard and she’s improving every single day,” Thomaidis said. “Up until Christmas, a lot of it was adjusting to our style of play, as well as new coaches and new teammates. She’s really starting to settle in right now and that’s reflected in her play.”

Statistically, the Dogs are dominating the CanWest conference. Their average margin of victory is over 25 points and they lead numerous categories, such as points per game, shooting percentage, turnovers per game and assists allowed per game. Leading in so many key stat categories is a direct result of complete team efforts put forth on a nightly basis.

Compared to the conference averages, the Dogs are above the curve in nearly every single stat category. Emmerson says it takes all 13 members of the squad contributing to enjoy such great team success.

“Our teamwork, our cohesion and our chemistry — we’re all tight and we’re all friends off the court too, and I think that carries over onto the court. We have such great leadership from all of our coaches and they’re really pushing the envelope on where we want to be and where we want to end up,” Emmerson said.

After last season ended in heartbreak with a semifinal loss to the eventual national champion Windsor Lancers, the Huskies are more determined than ever to get back to the CIS Final 8.

“That game stuck with all of us who are back — everyday we remember that. We want to get back to where we were, if not better this time around,” Dally said.

Being the only unbeaten team left in the CIS, there is a good chance the Dogs will return and compete for their first national title in program history. But they can’t get ahead of themselves, something Thomaidis knows better than anyone.

“The biggest thing is you can’t be complacent,” she said. “We’ve always had the goal of returning to nationals and competing for a national title. For us, it’s just a matter of getting better each day and we have some tough opponents coming up here in the schedule that we will be tested by. We just have to prepare ourselves the best we can for hopefully a run at nationals.”

Infographs: Jeremy Britz / Graphics Editor

Photos: Katherine Fedoroff