They proved they could play at the top level in Canada. And the UNBC Timberwolves are poised to make even bigger strides in 2013-14.
The UNBC women's basketball team wrapped up its first season in the Canada West Universities Athletic Association on Saturday night with a 76-63 home-court victory against the Mount Royal University Cougars. The T-wolves also beat the Calgary-based Cougars on Friday night and finished their schedule with an 8-14 record. In the eight-team Pacific Division, UNBC placed fifth, just one spot out of the playoffs. Within Canada West -- which also includes the eight-squad Prairie Division -- the Timberwolves earned more points than six other teams.
UNBC head coach Loralyn Murdoch was focused on the developmental process this season, rather than on wins and losses. But, looking at what her T-wolves accomplished, she considered them overachievers in some regards.
"It wasn't an option for us to come in and just ride out the year," said Murdoch, who started the season with just 10 players and finished with nine when rookie forward Allison Seinen decided to step away from the team. "It was always in the back of our minds that in order to be successful we had to put the best effort in at all times and if we did that we knew we could possibly knock off a few teams.
"I never thought we would have that number of wins," she added. "But did I expect that we were going to play hard all year? Yeah. We did have our highs and lows but it was more important to me to put a team on the floor that wasn't a college team. We were a [Canadian Interuniversity Sport] team and we were going to compete at that level."
Looking ahead to next season, the Timberwolves will have three fifth-year players in uniform -- unquestioned leader Mercedes Van Koughnett and impact players Emily Kaehn and Jennifer Bruce. They'll also have a trio of fourth-year players in Sarah Robin, Kellie Fluit and Jordyn Rabbitt so the immediate future looks bright indeed.
"We've got to find a point guard and we've got to get another big but I am very happy with the people that are returning," Murdoch said. "It's a slow process. We're not going to jump leaps and bounds in a year but we're going to step in the right direction."
Murdoch will also have to find a way to replace the physical power and competitive fire of forward Kady Dandeneau, who played the final game of her five-year career on Saturday. Dandeneau went out in style, contributing 15 points, nine rebounds, three assists and three steals in UNBC's win. She left the game with 1:46 to play, tears in her eyes, applause and drum beats sending her into the next phase of her life.
"I pretty much went out and tried to play the way I like to play every game," Dandeneau said. "But [the game] definitely had a little bit more meaning than the rest."
Walking off the court for the last time was, of course, gut-wrenching for Dandeneau, who played a major role in two college-level provincial championships during her time in UNBC colours.
"It really sucked -- I wasn't ready to go," she said. "I didn't want to stop playing but everyone's time comes, I guess."
Murdoch already has some new recruits in the fold for next season and will be heading to Toronto and the Lower Mainland in the coming weeks on a talent search.