Waknuk ready to reload Wolves
By TERRY FARRELL Herald-Tribune staff
Grande Prairie Regional College Lady Wolves basketball coach Dave Waknuk has a lot of holes to fill on his roster.
With only five returning players from last year's Alberta Colleges Athletic Conference championship squad, Waknuk has his work cut out for him.
But that also means plenty of opportunity for Wolves hopefuls when open tryouts start next week.
"We're pretty wide open," said Waknuk.
"At our ID camp (earlier in the summer) we more or less filled a few spots but there are still a handful of spots that are available and definitely a lot of room for people to move around.
"Our open tryouts are open to anybody but we do have a core group that have committed already."
Such a large turnover is typical of championship teams. Generally speaking, teams are formed, they gel, and by the third or fourth year, if they have enough talent and a successful system in place, they challenge for a title.
Then, after 'that championship season', it's time to rebuild – to start all over again.
It's a cycle played out in most colleges or universities.
Waknuk is not a fan of the term 'rebuilding'.
"You know, I have been asked a lot 'is Grande Prairie rebuilding?' and I sort of look at it that we are reloading instead," he said.
"Yes, we have a lot of first-years coming in and it's a new challenge without question, after losing two big pieces like Andria Carlyon (to U of A) and Jaelle Buhler (graduated). Those are huge holes and you don't fill them overnight, but we are excited for the challenge."
Huge holes to fill, indeed, but it's not as if Waknuk has no leadership on which to rely.
The Bratislava connection is intact.
Five-foot-eleven guard Lenka Rohova will be back for a fifth year, and six-foot-two guard Katarina Fialova will be entering her third season. Waknuk will be expecting big things from his Slovakian duo.
Rohova was effective at both ends of the court last season, averaging 2.9 rebounds and 6.3 points per game.
Fialova's numbers were even more impressive, with 4.7 rebounds and 8.3 points per outing.
"We are excited to have both of them back," said Waknuk.
"They bring a veteran presence. They worked hard for us every game last year and they will play key roles for us this season."
But the biggest returnee in impact could well be the smallest in stature. Five-foot-six guard Chelsea Comeau will be back for her third year and it could well be the Yellowknife product's breakout season.
Comeau's abilities came through at the most important time of the season last year – the playoffs.
She averaged 5.5 points and 3.5 assists per game in the regular season, then virtually doubled that in the ACAC playoffs, averaging 11.5 points per game – second only to Carlyon – and 6.3 assists.
"She really played better for us as the season went along last year," said Waknuk. "She stepped up a level and kept stepping up a level. I am really excited to see how she starts off this year."
Waknuk expects all three to step up this season.
"We are excited to bring these girls back; they are going to be asked to do some different things than they have in the past, but I know they are all capable," he said. "That's a good starting point, with those three."
One of the new recruits already pegged for substantial playing time is high school standout Kelly O'Hallahan, who was a dominant force for the Peace Wapiti Academy Titans last season.
"She has been around all summer and I have been able to work with her, been able to spend some time with her just on some individual stuff and I am really excited to have her as part of the program," said Waknuk.
The excitement is understandable.
O'Hallahan's last day of high school basketball last season (all-star appearances notwithstanding) was at the 3A girls' Northwest Zone championship in Beaverlodge. O'Hallahan scored 53 points in the morning against the St. Joe's Ceinahs, then led the Titans to a provincial berth with 45 points in the championship game against the Beaverlodge Royals.
(She did not play in the provincial tournament.)
Waknuk said there's every reason to believe O'Hallahan can eventually become just as dominant at the ACAC level.
"She is going to have to come in and adjust to the game – there's certainly quite a difference between high school and college – but she just has the pure talent and the ability that the transition period is going to be very short, I think," said Waknuk.
Open tryouts for the Lady Wolves basketball squad are next Wednesday, Sept. 7, from 5-7 p.m. at the GPRC gym and next Thursday, Sept. 8, from 5:30-7:30 p.m.