Duncans look to establish dynasty at DeSales


WALLA WALLA — Dynasty.

In sporting use, the word denotes a team that has dominated a league for a long period of time — long enough for several generations of players and coaches to rotate through.

Think New York Yankees. New England Patriots. Detroit Red Wings. Alabama Crimson Tide in football. UCLA in the Wooden years.

But not the DeSales girls basketball team.

Although the Irish have made five trips to state since 2002 and coach Tim Duncan has almost completed his 18th season as the head man, compiling a 308-137 record in the process, they have never won it all.

DeSales has never won a basketball state championship — girls or boys — according to the District 9 record book.

But look up dynasty in the dictionary — the non-sporting one — and the definition is different: a succession of rulers of the same family or lineage.

Duncan would probably like to establish a dynasty in the former sense, and DeSales could take another step in that direction this week (today through Saturday) at the WIAA Class 2B Hardwood Classic state championship tournament in Spokane.

But whether or not the Irish bring home the top trophy, his daughters Nicole and Caitlin, both DeSales grads who have grown up at the Irish gym, are looking to make a dynasty in the latter sense.

Both have an eye on the head coaching job at DeSales, and although coach Duncan hasn’t set any timeline on retiring, it’s likely they’ll get a chance in the not-so-distant future.

“They’ve kind of mapped out my future for me,” coach Duncan said. “I’ve got to coach long enough for (Caitlin) to be one of my assistants for a couple years, that would be my dream.”

“Hopefully, in a few years I’l have both of my daughters on the sidelines with me.”

Nicole, 24, has a head start on Caitlin, 20, who is still playing at Walla Walla Community College.

Duncan’s eldest daughter played for the Warriors and coach Bobbi Hazeltine as well, helping lead WWCC to a 25-11 season and a fourth-place finish at the NWAACCs in 2008-09.

Nicole transferred to Eastern Washington University after leaving WWCC to seek a degree in education and become a math teacher.

“(Nicole) was more of a role player, we had a lot of talent on those teams,” Hazeltine recalls. “Nicole was a 3-point shooter, that was her specialty.

“She saved us a couple of games,” Hazeltine said. “I remember a couple of games at Spokane where no one could make shots except Nicole, and she saved us.”

In her sophomore season at WWCC, Nicole shot 37 percent from 3-point range (29-of-73) and averaged 7.21 points per game.

She initially considered walking on at EWU, but decided she wanted to live the normal college student life.

“I thought about walking on, but I don’t know what changed my mind,” Nicole said. “I was done working at it, I just wanted to be normal.”

After graduating from EWU in 2011, she returned to the Valley for a teaching assistant job at Pioneer Middle School with an eye towards following in in her father’s footsteps at DeSales. Nicole was an assistant for both the DeSales basketball team and volleyball team this year.

“I have always wanted to teach at DeSales and be a volleyball coach,” said Nicole. “Obviously, basketball was more of what I wanted because my dad was the basketball coach, and eventually I want to take over and be the head coach.”

The Duncans lead the Irish against Morton-White Pass in the Hardwood Classic this afternoon in Spokane.

Caitlin is still playing at WWCC after leading the Irish to an appearance at state in 2010, her senior year.

Although at 5-foot-10 she had more of a post game than her older sister, who stands at 5-8, it was Caitlin’s uncanny 3-point shooting ability that got her on with Hazeltine.

“Caitlin could do it all,” coach Duncan said. “Her range was scary. She was a better shooter the farther back she got, it was uncanny. And she was a great post player, too.”

Coach Duncan said Caitlin averaged 20 points a game her senior season at DeSales.

“Every night she was a marked player,” coach Duncan said. “Everyone knew that this is who we have to stop, and they couldn’t do it.”

Caitlin isn’t quite tall enough to be a true post at the college level, however, and her freshman year she followed in her sister’s footsteps as a 3-point specialist.

It took a massive knee injury at the 2011 Peach Basket Classic, the annual 3-on-3 basketball tournament hosted by the YMCA in downtown Walla Walla, for Caitlin to develop into the multiple-threat player she is now.

“I knocked knees with someone and I was instantly screaming,” Caitlin recalled. “I didn’t want to look at it — it looked like my knee had just shifted off to the side. All I remember was laying there freaking out on the hot cement ground.”

A trainer at the tournament told her that she likely tore her anterior cruciate ligament (ACL), but a doctor’s diagnosis nearly a week after the tournament was much worse: she had torn her ACL, her medial collateral ligament (MCL) and her meniscus.

The injury sidelined her for the entire season and into the spring of 2012, but Caitlin never thought of transferring from WWCC, despite the fact that she had already accumulated enough credits to transfer after her sophomore year.

“I did not want basketball to end like that for me,” Nicole said. “It was too big a part of my life for it to end like that.”

It took Hazeltine asking if Caitlin was going to redshirt for the thought to leave to even occur.

“I went over to her house right away and asked what she wanted to do,” Hazeltine said.

When Caitlin said she wanted to come back, “I was so relieved because she was such a good student, she could have easily moved on,” Hazeline said. “I was just so relieved to have her back, not only as a player but for the team. She’s just so important.”

The knee injury kept Caitlin off the court until this past spring, but she didn’t mope, or even really slow down.

She ran for president of the WWCC ASB, a position she holds again this year, and polished her 3.99 grade point average while still attending practices and games.

The time off the court gave her a chance to observe the game from a different perspective, and she realized she needed to add another element to her game.

“After I hurt my knee, I spent that whole year just watching,” Caitlin said. “That was tough, but I could see the whole game. And then I spent the whole summer in the gym and I worked really hard to get back my strength and get ready to go. I wanted my (redshirt) sophomore year to be as successful as a it could be.”

The work paid off.

After averaging 7.2 points per game her freshman season she is up to 11.65 this season and making 38 percent of her shots from the floor. This despite the fact that she shares time with two of the other top scorers in the NWAACC East Region in Michelle Seitz and Hailey Felgenhauer.

“She has the uncanny ability now of taking the ball to the hole,” said coach Duncan, who watches all of his daughter’s games when not coaching his own team. “She can throw a ball-fake out to the perimenter or put the ball on the ground and take it to the hole. I’ve been really impressed at how she’s evolved and become a better player.”

Along with her ability to drive the lane, Caitlin developed her game on the defensive end, making her indispensable to the Warriors.

“She’s gotten to be a much better defensive player, and I just have a hard time taking her out of a game,” Hazeltine said. “Most of the time you have to worry about not playing a player enough, but I’ve been apologizing to her for playing her too much.

“I just can’t afford to have her on the bench. She does so much for us, but she’s a smart player, she’s a cerebral player. She really understands the game and it’s hard to take her off the floor.”

Now Caitlin has a chance to do something that eluded her and her sister at DeSales and again her freshman year at WWCC: win a title.

The Warrior women have had one of the most successful seasons in coach Hazeltine’s illustrious career at WWCC, and at 23-3 are looking to take their first NWAACC title since capturing that honor in 2010.

The tournament begins Saturday when WWCC takes on Southwest Oregon at 6 p.m. at the Toyota Center in Kennewick.

“This is huge,” Caitlin said. “We’re so excited and so ready to go. This is the point of the season that everyone has been working for, this is what all the hard work has come down to.”

Caitlin said she hasn’t decided what she wants to do after exhausting her eligibility at WWCC, whether or not she will keep playing college basketball or just attend school and complete her elementary education degree.

Either way, she wants to attend Central Washington University in Ellensburg, and would like to come back to Walla Walla to coach and teach in the Walla Walla Valley.

For coach Duncan, who said he always tried to take a hands-off approach to his daughters’ basketball careers for fear of burning them out, their desire to coach is like a dream come true.

In fact, having two daughters helped inform his decision to coach girls basketball at DeSales in the first place.

Coach Duncan played basketball and baseball at DeSales and in college. He coached baseball at Wa-Hi and at DeSales before settling down as the girls basketball coach for the Irish in 1992.

“When it was found that we were having two daughters, I wanted to coach basketball in the worst way,” coach Duncan said. “When the opening at DeSales came, it just made sense.”

The girls started hanging around Duncan’s practices when Nicole got into the fourth grade, Caitlin the first, and just watched, shot around, and helped get the players water and other things.

Then they progressed through middle school and eventually played for Duncan at the high school level.

“I just kind of left them alone,” coach Duncan said. “I didn’t want to put any pressure on them because even when you don’t they can kind of feel it.”

And when outside of practice or games, basketball was a taboo subject unless the girls brought it up.

“We didn’t spend a lot of time at home talking about (basketball),” coach Duncan said. “They got enough of me at practice.”

And now he wants to help them transition into coaching.

“Co-coach, head coach — I think that’s what they would like to do, that’s what I would like them to do, and hopefully the school (DeSales) would be open to that,” coach Duncan said. “I think (DeSales) would.”

“Caitlin will make a really good coach, except the fact that she’s one of the nicest people I’ve ever met,” Hazeltine said. “As far as her mind for the game goes, she’s got it. She’s going to be really good at that some day.”

Nicole, on the other hand, has found her father’s ability to get fiery when it’s called for.

“There’ve been a couple of times where we’ve (DeSales) been in a drill and it’s gotten a little sloppy, and I just get on them (players), and my dad just says, you know, you’re getting there,” Nicole said. “I’m kind of taking after him a little bit.”


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