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Auto Depot - SudburyPaul Lefebvre - MP for Sudbury
Douillette and her young team blessed with a long-term outlook

Not that it's a project that anyone would voluntarily undertake, but if you were to put together a university team that might be best equipped to withstand the challenges of a global pandemic, best to work with an ultra young squad.

Maintaining a long-term outlook would, by necessity, be a very good thing.

And so it is for Macdonald-Cartier Pantheres' graduate and Laurentian Voyageurs' basketball quasi sophomore Arielle Douillette and her crew.

"We were so young last year, our oldest player was usually a third year player," said Douillette, now 19 years of age. "That was definitely a struggle."

With eligibility still very much on their side, the women gathered on campus this fall, congregating from Montreal and Toronto and Saskatoon, and various cities in between.

"The girls stayed up here the whole first semester," she added. "That shows a lot of leadership and discipline, that we are all here to get better. Having second years and older players showing so much motivation really helps."

It's part of the reason why Douillette speaks with such excitement about her future with the team, even in the midst of a season written-off, playing at a level that she has dreamed of since her earliest days of high-school basketball.

"After my first season at ESMC, I played up with the senior team and developed a lot of skills playing with the older girls," said the eldest of two very sports-minded girls in the family. "That jump (to senior) really opened my eyes to the possibility of playing post-secondary."

A very solid outside shooter, Douillette recalled easily that game when she went off, a NOSSA final where the Pantheres avenged a lopsided opening game loss to the Korah Colts, edging the Sault powerhouse by three points with a berth at OFSAA on the line.

"I was pretty nervous in the first half," she suggested. "But the nerves kind of went away in the third and fourth quarters; I was hitting threes left, right and centre. I was shooting the lights out - it was one of those games."

By the time graduation arrived in June of 2019, Douillette knew that she had at least a foundation of a game that could translate to the OUA level - even if the extent of the commitment required to compete had not yet completely sunken in.

"It wasn't until into the first month of my university career that it really hit me," she said. "That's when I understood where they were coming from. All I did last year was eat and sleep, basketball and school."

Not that she is complaining.

A series of injuries would dwindle the LU roster to as few as seven or eight players. Fellow rookies Helena Lamoureux, Sydney Crawford and Gabby Schaffner started many a game together.

Douillette would endure a baptism by fire, but one which paid immediate dividends. "I developed a quicker shot, averaging 10 to 14 shots per game. It helped that I averaged a lot of minutes in my first year."

"That was unfortunately due to the injuries that we had on our team, but there's not a rookie around that wouldn't like to play 20 minutes a game. That was amazing."

It was a situation that also provided ample motivation, far more than could be offset by this nasty little virus that continues to grab headlines on a nightly basis.

"I trained a lot this summer, even with COVID," noted Douillette. "I was in the gym all the time, just because there was nothing else to do. I developed a lot of ball handling skills and finishing towards the basket skills."

With coach Jason Hurley having secured another solid recruiting class, the resumption of OUA play cannot begin soon enough for the Voyageurs. Douillette is among the majority who are looking to elevate their game come 2021-2022.

"I would say that my role is going to change," she said. "It's helped that I gained a lot of confidence, I'm more of a leader. I'm more of a leader now than I ever was in high school. I want to be a great team player, but keep developing as an individual basketball player as well."

In fact, taking advantage of a little extra time on their hands, the Voyageurs have tapped into enneagram personality type testing, looking to build even greater team unity within a group that stands to grow together.

"It's about understanding your teammates, understanding why they do what they do, understanding how they react to certain things," said Douillette. "I think it's really cool - we open up so much."

It's all part and parcel of the development of a young university basketball team, one well equipped to emerge on the other side of a pandemic stronger that it entered.

Northern Ontario AAA Hockey League