UNBC student Jenna Korolek played intramural basketball last year but couldn’t help but think she was missing her calling in the sport.
The three previous years she held a starring role on the Kelly Road Roadrunners high school teams and playing pick-up house league games at the university wasn’t enough of a challenge for Korolek. She was a City League all-star in two of her high school seasons and was still one of the top players in the city when she suffered an ankle injury knocked her out of action for two-thirds of her Grade 12 season. That two months of inactivity cooled the interest of postsecondary teams on the lookout for fresh talent.
“I missed the whole recruiting process in December and early January and when I sprained my ankle I thought that I was done and that was my last game - I didn’t think I’d play again,” Korolek said.
The UNBC Timberwolves were one of the teams that missed honing in on Korolek’s point guard talents. An email from Korolek to T-wolves head coach Sergey Shchepotkin was all it took to put her on UNBC radar. Invited to a tryout, she started practicing with the varsity team in January and played well enough to convince the coach to offer her a position for next season.
“She is a local product, and she is known for her work ethic on the court,” said Shchepotkin. “ She has the right attitude, and I think her speed, grit, and tough defense will be an asset for our team for many years.”
Korolek grew up in a basketball family. Her father Jason is a former Duchess Park Condor shooting guard and he and her older sister Kayla toughened her up on the court and helped shape her shooting skills. Jenna didn’t start playing on a team until she was entering Grade 10, but by the time she first put on a Roadrunner jersey in 2016 she was already a well-conditioned athlete. For 7 ½ years she swam competitively with the Prince George Barracudas Swim Club until basketball interrupted her nine-practice-per week swim schedule. All that time in the pool working on her technique to become a provincial-level swimmer developed the strength, stamina and cardiovascular power which she brought to the basketball court.
“You had to be really dedicated to the sport and work hard at it and I got my work ethic from that, I wanted to work just as hard at basketball as I did in swimming,” said Korolek.
“My whole family is athletic and I just had a knack for basketball, so it wasn’t too hard to pick up. Me and my dad would go to UNBC and practice all the time. In my Grade 12 year I became a pretty good outside shooter, but probably in Grade 10 and Grade 11 years it was more I was getting better with my left hand. I got really good at finishing with my left hand with my layups and trick shots like that because people were always forcing me left.”
On June 5, the Canada West Conference announced it was canceling its fall seasons and would delay until at least the start of January the start of all two-term sports, including basketball. That scuttled UNBC’s plans for preseason trips in the summer and the T-wolves are still uncertain when their practice schedule will begin.
“It kind of sucks, being a rookie, not being able to play the first half but at least I’ll still get to practice in September, hopefully, and I’ll still get to be with most of the girls on the team who are in town,” said Korolek. “Hopefully I’ll get to play a couple minutes each quarter.”
Now that Emily Holmes has graduated, the five-foot-five Korolek will be vying for point guard playing time with third-year Lucy Guan, who has the inside track on the starting position, and second-year Anastasia Soltes. Korolek knows T-wolves forward Rebecca Landry, the T-wolves’ top rookie last season. They used to play against each other when Landry played for Duchess Park and they teamed up together two years ago to capture the senior girls division in the Summer Hoops Classic 3-on-3 tournament.
Korolek, 18, has switched from chemistry to health sciences as her major for her second year at UNBC health sciences program and wants to become a physiotherapist. She’s hoping to return to her summer job with the city as a lifeguard once the pools reopen.