A key player on GW Graham’s back-to-back provincial finalist senior girls basketball team is heading to Nanaimo this fall.
Grade 12 guard Aliza Dueck has committed to Vancouver Island University and will join the Mariners for the 2019-20 PACWest women’s b-ball season.
“Over the past month or so since the season ended, I’ve been thinking about it a lot and it’s taken a while for the realization to set in that I’m leaving,” Dueck said, her eyes starting to tear up. “So much has happened here and I wouldn’t be where I am without the help of my coaches and family, teammates and teachers and everyone who has been so supportive of me.
“They’ve helped me get through the toughest spots and it’s going to be super tough leaving, but I know it’s what I have to do.”
It’s been a winding mental journey for Dueck to get to this place.
Twelve months ago, signing with a university team wasn’t on her radar.
Not because she wasn’t good enough but because she didn’t know if she wanted to.
She was stressed out and burned out and in a very different head-space heading into her senior season.
“I sat down with (GWG coach) Sarah (Mouritzen) after my Grade 11 season, she asked me what I wanted to do and I couldn’t give her a straight answer,” Dueck recalled. “Our team was coming off a great season, I knew I’d improved a lot and gained confidence and if I wanted to, I knew I could work hard and make it (to a university program).
“But I was just unsure if I wanted to pursue that.”
In the early months of the 2018-19 season, Dueck continued to waver.
“It wasn’t until November when I finally decided that, ‘Yes. I want to do this,” she said. “I think one of the major reasons was Deanna (Tuchscherer) and seeing how excited she was going through her signing (at UFV) with her dad).
“It made me take a step back and look at what my life would be like without playing basketball, and I realized I’d miss it too much.
“I’d worked too hard to give it up.”
It’s often challenging for teenaged athletes to articulate why they love their sport. The answer from most is some variation of, ‘I don’t know. I just do.’”
Dueck doesn’t have that problem.
“I can tell you exactly why I love it,” she began. “Everyone experiences so much stress and anxiety over all the stuff going on in their lives and everything can seem so out of control.
“But when I step on the court, all the stress of the day melts away. I can forget about all of that for the hour I’m playing.
“And the feelings that come with basketball, after a big win or a loss with your teammates, your family, you’re not going to get those feelings or memories anywhere else.”
Seriously, hearing her talk, it seems nuts what she was ever willing to leave basketball behind.
“I was just at a place where I was really exhausted and I just had to take a step back, find that love again,” Dueck said.
Now, Vancouver Island U gets a player who is all-in, fully committed and ready to roll.
Dueck took in a Mariners game with her family earlier this year and was struck by how much the coach (Tony Bryce) and his program mirror what she’s become accustomed to at GWG.
“Immediately I could tell, watching them on the bench and on that court, that they were so close and tightly knit,” she said. “The coach is at lot like Sarah, so encouraging and positive, and I could tell that the girls on that team love each other on and off the court.
“That’s what I had at GW Graham and that’s what I wanted to find again wherever I went.”
When she went to VIU for a visit a couple weekends ago, Dueck said she was welcomed with open arms by the Mariner players.
She was already 99.9 per cent sure VIU was her pick, but that sealed it.
“By the end of the weekend I could tell we’re already friends, and it just felt easy to me,” she said. “I thought it would be hard fitting in, but I already felt like I was fitting in.
“It just seemed like my place.”
Dueck has been a core player for several years at GWG, leading a lot of very good teams. It’s going to be strange watching Grizzly games next fall and not seeing her and Tuchscherer leading the charge.
“Not many girls get to go to provincials and compete at such a high level, and our group is going to be remembered in GW Graham history for being the first team to do that,” Dueck said. “I hope what we did inspires and motivates the younger girls to start working hard now and pursue that again.
“I know I will truly never forget what GW Graham has done for me.”