Shalie Dheensaw addresses Vikes players during U Sports play at CARSA in February. This week Dheensaw was named the interim coach of the UVic Vikes women’s basketball team for the 2020-2021 season. (Armando Tura/UVic Vikes)

Shalie Dheensaw addresses Vikes players during U Sports play at CARSA in February. This week Dheensaw was named the interim coach of the UVic Vikes women’s basketball team for the 2020-2021 season. (Armando Tura/UVic Vikes)

UVic Vikes new basketball coach on the fast track

At 26, Shalie Dheensaw assumed head coaching role

On paper, the nine-year timeline of Shalie Dheensaw’s trajectory from Claremont Spartan all-star and national U17 player to head coach of the UVic Vikes women’s basketball team is a fluid path.

But there was no plan. In fact, there were plenty of uncertain times for the opportunistic Dheensaw who, at 26, is among the youngest Vikes and U Sports head coaches of all time.

On Wednesday and under yet another cloud of uncertainty, the Vikes appointed Dheensaw, who’s been an assistant coach with the Vikes the past two seasons, as the interim head coach on a one-year term.

It’s been a fast ascension for Dheensaw, who has been an assistant coach with the Vikes the last two seasons and who, just nine years ago, was starring for the Spartans.

This year the Vikes finished with a winning record at 13-9 and were eliminated in the second round of the Canada West playoffs.

“It feels really good, it’s going to be a challenge, we have a team of returning players and four new players that could make an appearance at nationals, so it will be difficult but fun,” Dheensaw said.

Following her 2011 graduation from Claremont, Dheensaw played four years with the Washington State Cougars in the NCAA’s PAC 12 division. She became a defensive specialist who led the team in blocks and rebounds. Dheensaw started all 34 games in her third-year but suffered what was essentially a career-ending knee injury 16 games into her final season. In all, she appeared in 112 NCAA Div. 1 games and finished with 535 points, 307 rebounds and 98 blocked shots (fifth-most in WSU history).

Because of the season-ending injury in her final year, Dheensaw was welcomed to participate in coaching meetings and team practices by Cougars head coach June Daugherty. Dheensaw also coached the nearby Pullman high school basketball team and it led to her entry into a master of arts in Intercollegiate Athletic Leadership at the University of Washington.

READ MORE: Sporting an education, high school athletes headed to college and university

Before she knew it, Dheensaw was back in coaches meetings, this time as a “do-everything” graduate assistant with the Washington Huskies, the state rival of her alma mater Cougars.

But it was that first break during her final days as a Cougar that really opened the door to coaching, Dheensaw said.

“June Daugherty kept me on, traveled me, looped me into scouts and the details of practice, and exposed herself as who she was a person,” Dheensaw said. “The player-coach relationship is so tense sometimes it can be hard to see the coach as a human. It made me want to show that to student-athletes. Coaches guide that fun part of life, your college life.”

Throughout those years between 2015 and 2018, Dheensaw experienced pro-longed periods when she did not know what the next step would be. Now she has some certainty, assuming the COVID-19 pandemic subsides.

READ ALSO: Oak Bay hoop star shortlisted for second-straight B.C. high school player of the year award

Dheensaw assumes the head coaching vacancy at UVic left by Dani Sinclair, who departs the Vikes after eight seasons to be the new head coach of the Carleton Ravens.

“It is sad, I’m going to miss her,” Dheensaw said. “Dani’s done so much for me. Personality-wise we connected, it didn’t feel like work. I know she’ll always be an advocate for the Vikes [as an alma mater].”

Sinclair’s departure actually ends a partnership between Sinclair and Dheensaw that went back 13 years to when Sinclair actually coached Dheensaw when the latter was in Grade 8.

“Our team was going to the interior to travel with my dad coaching, so he brought [Sinclair] as a role model to help elevate the game for us,” Dheensaw remembered. “She was there with us, sleeping on the floor of classrooms at B.C. Summer Games.”

At the end of her time as a graduate assistant with the Washinton Huskies, Dheensaw returned to the Cougars in an assistant coaching capacity until that contract ended in June of 2018. Upon her return to Victoria she was prepared to get her teaching certificate and volunteer in any way she could as part of the Vikes team, which featured her younger sister Marissa (who has retained another year of eligibility should she choose to return).

Opportunity presented itself when an assistant coaching role opened for the Vikes that summer of 2018 and Dheensaw was able to secure it.

At the moment, uncertainty reigns. Dheensaw is planning to start her tenure with the team’s one-month July camp, when the players train together while also leading Vikes summer youth camps.

“Victoria has opened its arms to me since I came back, excited to see what we can do once the shackles [of the pandemic] are off.”

Dheensaw is joined by assistant coach Rob Poole, a 37-year veteran of the U Sports coaching scene.

reporter@oakbaynews.com


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