BURNABY — When it comes to beating the odds during this current decade-plus NCAA era of Simon Fraser women’s basketball, Arman Dulai may well have everyone beat.
When the 5-foot-9 junior guard from Surrey found out that she was going to be announced in the starting line-up for this past Saturday’s home game against Seattle Pacific, she became, for all intents and purposes, the Red Leafs’ first walk-on starter in the school’s 14 seasons in the Great Northwest Athletic Conference.
With SFU head coach Bruce Langford seeking to shake his team out of its collective doldrums midway through the GNAC campaign, he moved Dulai and fellow sophomore guard Myrlaine Shelvey into starting roles, hoping the new-look quintet would be able to re-invent itself through a disruptive, tenacious schematic defined by its ability to play pressure defence.
The Red Leafs (3-6) moved into the GNAC’s sixth-and-final playoff spot at the exact midway mark of the season with an 83-57 win over SPU’s Falcons (3-6), and among the many impressive individual performances on the evening was Dulai’s eight-point, two assists, one block, one steal outing which came as part of a GNAC career-high 21 minutes of floor time.
“I started her because I wanted to be quicker and more athletic in the five starting spots,” said Red Leafs’ head coach Bruce Langford of Dulai, who played her high school basketball in Surrey for the Panorama Ridge Thunder. “She has always been very focused, committed, and hard working. Every year she’s put in the hours to get better and now she’s seeing the benefits of that work.”
To be completely honest, last Saturday’s start was not her actual first at SFU.
Dulai did get a spot start on Jan. 12 of last season in SFU’s 70-44 home win over Western Oregon, one which came at a time when Langford was looking to find better cohesion within his starting group.
On that night, playing 15 minutes, Dulai scored two points to go along with an assist and a block.
Still, that move did not come as part of a fundamental change in the team’s playing style.
This time around, however, as host Simon Fraser looks to build on its momentum Thursday (7 p.m., Red Leafs TV) against the heavyweight Alaska Anchorage Seawolves (6-3), Dulai could potentially be summoned once more for starting duty.
“I honestly didn’t expect this at all,” Dulai said following Satutrday’s win. “I’m really grateful for Langford giving me this opportunity.”
With an agressive demeanor, a defensive feel which is being given an opportunity to blossom, and wingspan which seems to out-stretch her 5-foot-9 frame, Dulai says there is no doubting the approach she is carrying into games in whatever role she is asked to play.
“It’s just like M says ‘Be a pitbull out there,’” she begins of the advice she has gotten this season from assistant coach and former SFU guard Marie-Line Petit. “So that is what I am trying to do. I am trying to make the other team more nervous, to get those steals, get those deflections.”
And, she adds, that tone can’t be set without dogged determination in the practices which lead in what is a pivotal swing weekend for the Red Leafs, and one which continues Saturday afternon (1 p.m., Red Leafs TV) against the conference’s other Alaskan school, the Nanooks (2-7) of Fairbanks.
“It all comes from practice,” adds Dulai, who in nine GNAC games this season is averaging 3.7 points, 3.0 rebounds and 1.0 assist over 16.7 minutes per game while shooting .333 from the field (13-of-39) with seven steals and a pair of blocks.
“If we are aggressive in practice and Langford and all the coaches see that, they know that you’re going to do that in the game as well. They know they can trust you.”
Last Saturday’s win also marked Shelvey’s first-ever start at SFU, and Langford liked what she brought in concert with not only Dulai, but the other three starters in Jessica Wisotzki, Sophia Wisotzki and freshman Rachel Loukes.
“They brought so much energy and they can defend,” Langford said of Dulai and Shelvey in particular. “They have made people play faster than they are comofrtable playing and they are both really athletic. They got a few rebounds, a few assists, a few steals. But the most important thing is they just brought a tempo and a speed to us. Defensively, they were lockdown for good portions of time.”
Shelvey finished the game with four points, two steals, two rebounds, an assist and a block in 25 minutes.
Simon Fraser now seemingly has more mix-and-match options open to it the rest of the season. They can play big or small, and whenever they play with their smaller, pressing lineup, their bench options suddenly take on a deeper and more seasoned look.
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