When tragedy strikes a team

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After 18 years behind the bench, Sandy Pothier has been sidelined by cancer. With a new coach and an inexperienced roster, how will the women’s basketball team rebound without her? Stefanie Wright reports

Just outside the Kerr Hall Gym, you can hear the familiar sounds of the women’s basketball team: the dribbling of balls, the squeaking

of shoes, and the echoes of the players yelling ball, side and back.

But there’s one familiar sound that is noticeably absent: the voice of

Sandy Pothier, their coach of the past 18 years.

Midway through last season, Pothier left the team unexpectedly and didn’t return to the bench. At the time it was a mystery, but now the details have come out: she has cancer.

When she will return — if she ever does — is unclear. Now a team of mostly rookies must pull together under interim head coach Charles Kissi in his first stint as a head coach.

Kissi worked under Pothier last season, so the returning players know his style. He’ll also have veteran assistant coaches Georgia Risnita and Rob Wright to lean on. He doesn’t think the transition should be too hard.

“Everyone who played under Sandy misses her, but now we have seven rookies who know only me,” he said.

Still, Pothier leaves her mark. Second-year forward Kelsey Wright attributes a lot of her success to her former coach.

“Sandy put in a lot of hours with me, which really helped, working on three-point shooting and decision making,” she said.

All that hard work paid off: Wright is a newly appointed captain and is coming off a great rookie season that saw her average 20.9 minutes per game and was fifth on the team in scoring. She was also named to the OUA East all-rookie team.

As for her impression of the new coach, Wright had glowing things to say. Aside from his attention to physical fitness, she said his greatest skill is in refining the specific strengths of each player.

“Ashley Clarke [for example] is a good point guard, and Charles will turn her into the best point guard,” she said.

Still, it will be tough for the team to improve upon last season, which was one of their best ever. The team finished second in the OUA Eastern Conference with a 14–8 record. One of the keys to their success was their improved man-to-man defence.

“I thought we took a big step in the right direction [because] the girls all bought into the program,” said Kissi. “It is important for us [this year] to be aggressive in our passing and be in the right spot. Defense for us is key, we aren’t very big.”

Because there are so many new faces, Kissi is looking to his captains — Wright, third-year forward Angela Tilk and fourth-year point-guard Ashley MacDonald — to step up and show leadership. Each of them has been teamed up with two or three rookies so that they can work out together.

“I’ve been bringing them onto the court extra to strengthen them and to make sure they understand the plays,” said Wright. “They ask a lot

of questions.”

Annie Sokoloff is one of the rookie forwards this year and is coming to realize that the players at this level are a lot stronger and intense. She is finding the veterans helpful, but also looks towards the other rookies in day-to-day life while adjusting to living on residence.

“They are like family, all very supportive and we all help each other out,” she said.

Photo: Chelsea Pottage

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