Shalie Dheensaw will have a story to tell later in her career about how she was hired for her first head-coaching position amid a pandemic with uncertainty swirling over everything from training camp to the upcoming season.
The former Claremont Secondary star, and four-season NCAA Pac-12 player with the Washington State Cougars, was named Wednesday as the eighth head coach of the University of Victoria Vikes women’s basketball program.
At 26, the former Canadian Under-17 player becomes the youngest head coach in U Sports.
The women’s basketball players, like all UVic Vikes varsity athletes, are currently off-campus and continuing their education through remote learning while training individually due to the COVID-19 pandemic. At the moment, Dheensaw can only communicate with her players remotely.
“It’s a weird time to jump into any job,” she said.
“What will help get me through this is the relationship I already have with the players.”
Dheensaw was lead assistant coach to Dani Sinclair the past two seasons on the Vikes bench as UVic went 24-16 in that span and reached the Canada West quarter-finals both years.
Sinclair guided the Vikes for eight seasons before departing March 10 to take over the head- coaching positioning with the Carleton Ravens.
“We are all responding to the reality of COVID-19,” said UVic athletic director Clint Hamilton. “The only certainty at this time in society and sports is uncertainty. It was important for us to provide a level of certainty for our players.”
“We have done that with a lot of confidence by naming Shalie, who is a strong leader who has put in time with the Vikes program with a work ethic and passion, and who has a relationship with the players.”
Hamilton acknowledged Dheensaw had the strong support of both the players and Sinclair. He said the interim label is not because of Dheensaw’s youth, but a normal UVic practice until the designation is removed. Hamilton noted Sinclair, too, was initially hired under the interim label as was the most recent previous Vikes head coaching hire — two-time Olympic Games runner Hilary Stellingwerff as UVic track coach.
“I’m a big learner and age was never brought up,” Dheensaw said.
Hamilton is a former UVic player who himself was only 27 when he became head coach of the University of New Brunswick men’s basketball team.
As for philosophy, Dheensaw said: “It’s five-for-50. We get the student-athletes for five years to set them up for success in whatever they do for the next 50.”
It was also announced that Rob Poole will serve as UVic assistant coach. Poole has 37 years of head- coaching experience, including guiding Grant MacEwan to a 16-4 record in the 2014-15 Canada West season. Poole also led the Griffins to two Alberta conference titles when Grant MacEwan played at the collegiate level.
“Rob is an ideal complement to Shalie and we are confident our women’s program is well led through this challenging time,” Hamilton said.