Point guard Sabine Dukate is the newest member of the Huskie women's basketball team.
Point guard Sabine Dukate is the newest member of the Huskie women's basketball team.

From Eastern Europe to Western Canada

Lisa Thomaidis searched from coast to coast looking for a starting point guard for her University of Saskatchewan Huskies women’s basketball team last season. Little did she know she was looking on the wrong continent.

With recruiting all but wrapped up, the Huskies head coach received an unexpected email from overseas in May of 2015 from a 22-year-old player she had never heard of from Ventspiils, Latvia, who was looking for a place to play in Canada. One year later, Sabine Dukate helped the Huskies win their first national women’s basketball championship, capping a memorable journey across the Atlantic and across cultures.

“We had just graduated two of our point guards from the previous season and to get that email out of the blue was great,” said Thomaidis. “When she first sent me game-film and I saw her play, I was like, ‘Oh my goodness, we need to have her!’ So it really is unbelievable how it all happened.”

Dukate had played professional basketball the previous three years in Lithuania, where she met her boyfriend. Truth be told, it was his idea to come to Canada for a new adventure and to try to build a career as a massage therapist after acquiring a work visa, with Dukate also interested in going back to school. As she searched basketball websites, Dukate found Thomaidis listed as head coach of Canada’s national team, and quickly sent her an email.

“I didn’t think someone would respond to my email, since they have their own players in Canada and the university level is pretty high, so I didn’t think someone would reply,” Dukate said. “But I was lucky. I was thinking this was a really good opportunity for me to study and learn new basketball playing on the team with the best coach in Canada. Two weeks later, we were here.”

However, acquiring a student visa and making the trip overseas were only the first steps in a long process that took months to complete. As an international student who had been out of school for years and whose first language was not English, Dukate had to complete a plethora of paperwork and multiple tests and online courses to prove her proficiency to be eligible to enter university and suit up for the Huskies. Months of tutoring followed, with Dukate passing her final test on the eve of the start of the fall semester.

“She is a very bright individual and it certainly helped that she was able to speak the language,” Thomaidis said. “But it’s one thing being able to take part in conversa- tional English, it’s clearly another to be able to write a test and prove your competency. So that was very difficult and she literally got it done on the last possible date right before school started.”

While Dukate does speak five languages—Latvian, Lithuanian, German, Russian and English—she admits that she and her boyfriend struggled adjusting to life in a foreign country and trying to make ends meet.

“We struggled a lot, but at the same time, it just makes us stronger,” said Dukate, an arts and science student who wants to study kinesiology moving forward. “I learned a lot about myself in this journey. I am happy that we came here and took this chance.”

Thomaidis is also thrilled she took a chance on Dukate, who was the final piece of the puzzle for her championship team. Dukate saved her best for when it mattered most, leading the team with 18 points in the Canada West conference final and adding 22 points, seven rebounds and seven assists in the national championship game.

“It was unbelievable,” Dukate said. “We went so far and all of last year’s players were amazing players and to play with them was an amazing experience. It was a dream (season).”

With Thomaidis’ team having graduated four of the five starters from the championship squad, Dukate will be counted on even more to lead a young Huskies squad this season.

“She has really grown over the course of being here for over a year and we are really looking forward to this season because she is a much better player than she was last year,” said Thomaidis, whose team will raise the championship banner to the rafters at the Physical Activity Centre on Nov. 19. “I think people are going to find us entertaining to watch and I think we are going to surprise some people.”

Huskies at Home

The upcoming home games for Huskie Athletics teams for the next month

Friday, November 11
Women’s Basketball: vs. Winnipeg, at PAC, 6:15 pm
Men’s Basketball: vs. Winnipeg, at PAC, 8 pm 

Saturday, November 12
Women’s Basketball: vs. Winnipeg, at PAC, 6:15 pm
Men’s Basketball: vs. Winnipeg, at PAC, 8 pm 

Friday, November 18
Women’s Basketball: vs. Brandon, at PAC, 6:15 pm
Men’s Basketball: vs. Brandon, at PAC, 8 pm
Women’s Hockey: vs. Calgary, at Rutherford Rink, 7 pm 

Saturday, November 19
Women’s Basketball: vs. Brandon, at PAC, 6:15 pm
Men’s Basketball: vs. Brandon, at PAC, 8 pm
Women’s Hockey: vs. Calgary, at Rutherford Rink, 7 pm 

Friday, November 25
Women’s Volleyball: vs. Brandon, at PAC, 6 pm
Men’s Volleyball: vs. Brandon, at PAC, 8 pm
Women’s Hockey: vs. Manitoba, at Rutherford Rink, 7 pm 

Saturday, November 26
Women’s Volleyball: vs. Brandon, at PAC, 6 pm
Men’s Volleyball: vs. Brandon, at PAC, 8 pm
Women’s Hockey: vs. Manitoba, at Rutherford Rink, 7 pm
Wrestling: Huskie Open, at Education Gym
(Women: 9:30 am to noon. Men: 12:30 to 4:30 pm.)

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