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Tuesday, Jul. 17, 2018
Laurentian women reward new coach with a win
2017-11-04
by Randy Pascal

Bringing in a new head coach a week or so before the regular season opening game might not be the script to success many would follow, but that was the hand the Laurentian Voyageurs women's basketball team have been dealt.

With Jason Hurley on leave from the team, confirmed only just over a week ago, the Voyageurs moved quickly to name alumnus and current OCAA assistant coach Kauri Lafontaine as the new interim bench boss at L.U.

With the team coming off records of 4-15 (2016-2017) and 3-16 (2015-2016) the past two seasons, a fresh start is not necessarily the worst thing in the world, according to a fifth year vet.

"Right now, we have enthusiasm, which is really important," noted L'Ashante Henry, second leading scorer on the team last year (9.8 ppg), behind only Emily Tinnes. "I think we're quicker, and I think we have people who have learned and grown in the past couple of years. I think we might be able to do something."

In order to achieve that goal, each player, individually, will have to show some improvement in their game, something the forward with almost 70 career games on her resume noted. "For me, it's going to be shooting, because I think my number one choice is always to drive, and I think defenders really pick up on that," said Henry.

"I have to show them a different look. If they sag off, I have another option." As for the soon-to-be 30 year old who leaves her post with the Durham Lords to join her alma-mater, the short term demands are fairly obvious.

"I think for me, it's effort," said Lafontaine. "I want to see them work hard. It's kind of like a clean slate, almost a tryout, so show me what you have." Though it's a very safe bet that the Whitby native will give up OUA head coaching experience to virtually every one of her peers across the court, she appears to have an idea as to her approach in tackling her first head coaching gig.

"I've always dreamed of coaching, but that next level jump is about being able to relate to the kids on a different level," Lafontaine acknowledged. "They need your experience and they need support, but they need to be pushed and be made to feel uncomfortable. That was something that was hard for me at the start."

And like most coaches, she taps into folks with whom she learned the most to fashion some of her thoughts on the game. "Mike (Clarke) ran such good stuff when I was here," she said. "I still use his stuff and I swear by some of it."

From an "X's" and "O's" standpoint, it was unbelievable what he was able to do, and I fed off of it." Making things even more challenging is the fact that it will be a complete slate of new faces that guides the Laurentian team until the return of Hurley, as assistants Shirlene MacLean and Bill Gordon give way to a pair of teammates from the Lafontaine era.

Lisa (Furchner) Carruthers and Katie Goggins have already stepped in to help with practices and such, though it's unlikely either will be able to commit the time needed to travel extensively with the team. In that sense, Lafontaine sees no issue whatsoever in adding a more experienced basketball person to the mix.

"I'm still learning, hopefully I'm getting better," she said. "It would be great for me to have someone who is experienced and seasoned so that they can push me, and also mentor me, in a sense. Maybe I'll give them something - who knows?"

As for a realistic tangible target, Lafontaine tries hard not to let her excitement with her new job, even with the interim title, get the better of her. "I would love to get a ton of wins this year, but I think that the biggest thing for us and myself is what exactly Laurentian basketball looks like," she added.

"Are we lazy, or do we work hard? Do we defend, or do we give up? But I will say playoffs is realistic." Good news for Lafontaine and the team as it took only one game for the former player to register her first OUA victory as a coach.

Laurentian hightailed it all over the Waterloo Warriors in the first half of the opener at the Ben Avery Gym, establishing a 30-15 half-time lead. The energy gave way to more pragmatic concerns over the final twenty minutes of play, with the Voyageurs hanging on for a 49-46 win.

Tinnes (11 pts), Andrea Zulich (10), rookie Bailey Tabin (7) and Kayla Deschatelets (6) paced the L.U. attack, with Sydney Wilson responding with double digits (10) in a losing cause for Waterloo.

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