Duinker To Return To Wolves' Den ... Next Year
By JEFF KORENKO
Come next season, the GPRC Wolves women's hoops squad is going to have quite the dilemma on its hands.
After failing to make the playoffs in 2005-06, the program has progressed through a philosophy of utilizing its improved depth to the point it is now a solid contender for the post-season.
How good then could this team be next season when it welcomes back a player who set the single-season Alberta Colleges Athletic Conference point standard a year ago?
It is a prospect that has had head coach Mark Catling grinning from ear to ear since guard Melissa Duinker decided during the holiday break to return to the Wolves after a semester playing Canadian Inter-university Sport (CIS) ball with the Calgary Dinos.
Duinker, the LaGlace product named the Daily Herald-Tribune's 2006 female athlete of the year for scoring 486 points in her second ACAC season last year, was not happy with the amount of playing time she was getting with the Dinos.
She knows she is better for the experience, but being back practising with her former team for the last couple of weeks has already given her the impression this is a better fit for her.
But her decision to return to Grande Prairie at this time means she is academically ineligible to compete in the ACAC for the duration of the 2006-07season.
She will be thus reduced to the role of a cheerleader when the 9-3 Wolves resume their regular-season by hosting the NAIT Ooks for a pair of games this weekend.
"I was having a pretty good time, but I just wasn't getting lots of playing time," Duinker said Thursday night as the Wolves went through their final preparations for the games tonight and Saturday afternoon at the college.
"There were lots of weekends I wouldn't get to travel with the team. It just made me realize that for the last couple of years I am in school, I want to play. I don't want to watch from the bench.
"Even though I am back but I can't play yet, it just feels like a better fit. I just think it's a better choice for me right now. It's been really fun being back up here with these girls."
The team Duinker "returns" to is a far cry from the one she left at the end of '05-'06.
Entering the second half, the Wolves are in the thick of things at the top of the North Division. Incorporating an up-tempo style built on better conditioning and spreading the minutes deep into their bench, they are in third place and trail the Grant MacEwan Griffins and King's University College Eagles - who are tied for first at 12-2 - by six points.
"Although it's been disappointing that I couldn't realize the dream of playing (full-time) in the CIS, at least I can say I tried," said Duinker. "I went and did everything I could and ultimately, I want to play my last couple of years and that definitely made it easier in coming back.
"I always thought that if things didn't work out in Calgary I could come back. I just never figured I would be coming back to such a strong team. It's so exciting and a little bit intimidating, because I have always played 40 minutes a game and this year these girls are vying for playing time," she said.
"I have never had a problem with being a cheerleader and talking lots during practice, so I am just going to continue to do that and also maybe I can bring some experience to the first-year players with what I have learned about playing defence."
While he is obviously excited at the prospect of adding another highly-gifted, offensive threat to next year's team - considering every player on this year's roster is eligible to return - Catling believes the current edition of the Wolves is on the verge of something special.
"I think we are really going to want to put ourselves in a good position in the second half come playoff time. We want to get everything in order for when the games really start counting for a lot and this weekend is a big one for us," said Catling.
"(NAIT) is a team that is behind us in the standings and a team that we have beaten twice already in the first semester, but it wasn't handily," said Catling.
"It's a team we should beat, for sure."
The teams have faced each other twice this season, with the Wolves coming away with 73-60 and 49-43 victories back on Nov. 3-4 in Edmonton.
The Ooks are tied for fourth with Concordia at 5-9.
The Wolves are 5-1 at home, while NAIT is 1-5 on the road.
"I think the girls are a little bit nervous because we haven't played for awhile," Catling added. "But, I think they are excited and ready to go. It'll be nice to open the second half at home."
Asked if finding sufficient minutes for Duinker next season could be a nice headache to have as a coach, Catling replied, "Melissa is a very strong player and I think she is an excellent team player. We were really shorthanded last year, but this year we have really prided ourselves on our depth and our team play and I think next year she will be just another player that fits into that system well," Catling said.
"We are looking forward to seeing what she can bring to the table in that regard and it doesn't hurt to bring another scorer into the lineup, that's for sure."