Canada's best to clash on GPRC court
By TERRY FARRELL, Herald-Tribune staff
January 14th, 2011
"It's not very often that you have two of the top teams in Canada playing a women's basketball game in Grande Prairie." --Wolves basketball coach Dave Waknuk
It's been a long time since Grand Prairie basketball fans could see two of the top women's basketball teams in the country face each other, at least without heading five hours down Highway 43 to Edmonton.
In fact, the 1989 national championship tournament notwithstanding, no such meeting has ever been held on the Grande Prairie Regional College hardcourt.
Tonight's contest at the GPRC gymnasium will feature the No. 2-ranked SAIT Trojans and the No. 5-ranked Wolves.
That's right - No. 5.
"We were hoping to maybe crack the top 10, and when I saw No. 5, I have to say, I was very surprised," said Wolves coach Dave Waknuk. "It does set up nicely for this weekend, though. This is a big weekend for us. It's not very often that you have two of the top teams in Canada playing a women's basketball game in Grande Prairie."
The Wolves vaulted six spots in the Canadian Colleges Athletic Association rankings with their showing at the Seneca Sting Women's Basketball Classic Tournament in Toronto last week.
They beat the Fanshawe Falcons (No. 10, Ontario Colleges Athletic Association) 59-41 to open the tournament, then edged the Sheridan Bruins 58-55 in the semifinal. The Bruins were ranked No. 7 nationally going into the weekend.
"They (Bruins) have been to nationals three years in a row and have won the Ontario conference three years in a row, so they are a team that is always considered a contender," said Waknuk. "It was a great game. It was a one-point game, or tied, pretty much throughout."
The Wolves dropped a 70-54 decision to the national No. 4 Vanier Cheetahs in the finals.
"That was a tough turnaround with the schedule," said Waknuk. "We basically had to give everything we had to beat Sheridan and then we had only a one-game break (as opposed to Vanier's two-game break).
"So we came out flat. We only scored six points in the first quarter. We just didn't have anything left in the tank. We were down 24 early and did claw back to within 10 in the third, but we didn't have enough energy to punch through that deficit. They (Vanier) played very well."
Waknuk was particularly pleased with how his girls performed against unknown opponents. It called for adjustments on the fly and the Wolves were flying all weekend.
It was definitely going into the unknown with that tournament," said Waknuk. "You follow the rankings, you follow on paper what they are supposed to be, but you have no idea what No. 7, or No. 4 really means."
"So from that standpoint it was really good to see what other teams do, and for the girls it was a good opportunity to play against different styles.
"The teams out east are very fast-paced and physical. Size-wise we were the biggest team there by a long shot but they can all shoot and attack you from different positions."
Now the Wolves get to play their third national top-10 squad in seven days.
"Yep, it's a big weekend, for sure," said Waknuk. "I think the entire second semester is going to be a common theme, where every weekend is going to be important. So (the tournament) was a good way to get ready for it."
He said the competition at the Seneca tournament should help with preparation for SAIT.
"They (Trojans) are not unlike what we saw last week," said Waknuk. "They are a quick team, aggressive defensively. They like to force the other teams into turnovers. They are pretty balanced and very fast, up-tempo team."
Not to mention the defending ACAC champions, as well.
"They aren't the same team they were last year," said Waknuk. "Their two top players from last year (Kim Lee, Rachel Niven) are gone, but they still have a lot of girls from that championship team and a great recruiting class too. The players that returned are strong players."
Although the match against SAIT marks the first time two national top-5 teams have met in Grande Prairie during an Alberta Colleges Athletic Conference regular season game, it may not be the last time it happens this season. The Wolves will finish the regular season with a doubleheader against the Concordia Thunder. The Thunder are currently ranked No. 4 in Canada.
While rankings are nice, Waknuk is working hard to keep everything in perspective.
"The No. 5 spot is a great achievement for the program, but what we are trying to keep in mind here is that our ultimate goal is never the national rankings," he said. "Our ultimate goal is to be playing our best ball at the end of the year. We are trying to get better every time we play and hopefully this weekend we keep that theme going."
QUEENS VISIT SATURDAY
The new ACAC schedule provides Grande Prairie fans with the rare opportunity to see different teams on Saturday this weekend. Rather than the usual doubleheader, the Wolves will be hosting the Red Deer College Queens on Saturday. It's also at an unusual time for a Saturday game. Tip-off is at 6 p.m.