Slemp Going From The Pine To The Hardwood
By JEFF KORENKO
From riding the pine to becoming an oak of consistency.
Having flourished under head coach Mark Catling's team-first, "we're gonna go deep into our bench" philosophy, GPRC Wolf Erin Slemp is definitely looking forward to this weekend's ACAC Final Four women's basketball tournament more than she did two years ago.
That's because unlike 2005 - when she sat on the bench for every minute of the Concordia University College Thunder's run to a national title - the fourth-year wing out of Hanna, Alta., will not only see plenty of action, but be called upon to make an impact beginning tonight, when the Wolves take on the defending-champion and host Mount Royal College Cougars in one of two semifinal games.
"It was an amazing experience even though I sat in the bench," said Slemp, when asked during the team's final practice Wednesday night prior to departing for Cowtown Thursday morning, what she hopes to bring to the Wolves from having been part of that championship squad.
"So, this will be a little different me though, actually getting to play in the Final Four. "I know we have to stay composed, we need to play as a team and stay confident in what has gotten us this far. That was how that team won a championship."
She also recalled how the Thunder's willingness to tighten up defensively played a big part of their postseason success.
And that is exactly the mindset the Wolves will have to get into if they hope to advance past the Cougars into Saturday night's championship game against the winner of the Grant MacEwan Griffins and Lethbridge Community College Kodiaks semi.
I could very well be Slemp leading the way in that regard.
Throughout the season, Catling has matched her against opponents' top scorers and her versatility has shone through. She registered a team second-best 37 steals, but still managed to contribute 7.21 points per game.
"We are pretty good defensively. We are quick and aggressive," said Slemp.
"But the biggest thing is our depth. On any given night, it's always been someone different stepping up and we never know who it's going to be.
"We have a very deep bench ... it's not like we are standing around waiting for someone to take charge; but every player has confidence in the abilities of the players around them," she said.
"That is a pretty special feeling in the playoffs. We are pretty excited about out opportunity this weekend."
Following a 17-7 second-place finish in the North Division and a sweep of the SAIT Trojans in the quarter-finals, the Wolves enter tonight's clash with the Cougars having been ranked 12th in the nation by the Canadian Colleges Athletic Association.
Mount Royal, ranked ninth, has been led by Danielle Vogt, Alicia Wilson and Jessica Mercier - who averaged 14.9, 12.7 and 11.8 points per game, respectively. They finished first in the South with a 17-3 record.
The Cougars-Wolves game will precede the Griffins (first North, 21-3, ranked seventh in the CCAA) and Kodiaks (second South, 16-4, ranked second in the CCAA) semifinal.
Making things even tougher on a Wolves squad many are not giving much chance of moving on, is the fact the Cougars lost just once on their home court this season.
"They will come after us all 40 minutes, pressure us right to the end," said Catling.
"They are a very athletic team, but I really like the way we match up against them.
"If we can handle their pressure in the full and half-courts, not turn the ball over and manage to shoot a decent percentage, we have a very good chance of winning," Catling said.
"A lot of people have already counted us out as not being able to compete with them ... but we have to go in their motivated and believe we can win and not go in there intimidated."
While the Wolves displayed resiliency all season long in pulling out big games in which they trailed - including both quarter-final wins over the Trojans - they definitely don't want to put themselves in that position tonight, Catling said.
"If we find ourselves down 14, 16 points at halftime, that's going to be tough for us to get back in the game in their gym; a place where they have really dominated."
Should the Griffins advance to Saturday's final, the team they face will also receive a berth into the CCAA championships, which Grant MacEwan hosts March 15-17.
The Wolves can't and won't be thinking that far ahead, Catling said.
"We have focused in on (tonight). Mount Royal has been the best team all year. We are of the mindset that we have to win to get in ... we don't want to have to rely on other teams to help us out. We want to take care of our own business," said Catling.
"If we go down there and win two games, we get in regardless of what anybody else does and that's our goal."
NOTES - Along with becoming nationally ranked, the Wolves also had three players selected for the ACAC's all-conference teams this week.
Fourth-year forward Jen Seemann - who finished the regular season third in the North in total points with 365, second with 175 rebounds and fourth with 14 blocks and then scored 21 points and collected 14 rebounds in back-to-back games against the Trojans - was selected to the first team, while rookie guard Jaelle Duinker and rookie guard Laura Dunsdon were named to the second team.
While averaging a team second-best 9.89 points per, Duinker is fifth in the division with 63 steals. Dunsdon is averaging 9.23 points per game and is fourth in rebounding with 186.
Both their stats include the team's two postseason games thus far.