GPRC Wolves Hope to Contend in ACAC North Division Despite Roster Turnover

Lloyd, Evan
Evan Lloyd and the GPRC Wolves return just five players from last year’s roster, but their incoming recruits have created a buzz within the program. (Source: GPRC) (Header: GPRC)

GRANDE PRAIRIE, Alta. — If you’re reading this, it’s not too late.

The 2019-20 basketball season is right around the corner, and we’re here to help you get set for what will surely be an incredible journey.

While we’re still looking back on an incredible 2018-19 season, one that saw two teams win their first-ever National Championships in school history, it’s also the perfect time to look ahead. The 2019-20 season promises to deliver a heightened level of excitement, and we can’t wait to see what’s in store for the new campaign.

To get fans across the country ready for the new season, we’ve taken on a challenge that hasn’t been done before. In the coming weeks, we will preview every team from coast to coast ahead of the 2019-20 season.

That’s 111 different programs, if you’re keeping a tally.

From August 8th through to October 6th, every team will be previewed in some capacity. For institutions that have both men’s and women’s basketball, a separate preview piece will be done for each team.

Rosters will be dissected and a look back at the year that was will help us determine what the team looks like this time around as every team begins with a blank slate in the standings.

Without further adieu, here is today’s preview on the men’s basketball program for the Grande Prairie Regional College (GPRC) Wolves.

2018-19 in Review

The GPRC Wolves had the look of a team that was bound for the playoffs early in 2018-19. A dismal 10-game stretch that stretched from the end of November through to February turned out the lights on their playoff dreams.

The Wolves were one of several teams in contention for the fourth and final playoff spot in the competitive ACAC North Division. However, with the Lakeland College Rustlers serving as the host institution for the 2019 ACAC Men’s Basketball Championship and receiving an automatic bid, the Wolves needed to finish in third place or higher to secure themselves a spot in the post-season.

After an up-and-down season, one that saw the Wolves play their way out of playoff contention and then back into the race down the stretch, GPRC missed the playoffs. They finished with a record of 11-13 in ACAC play to finish fifth in the North Division.

While they won four in a row to close the year, it was a mid-year drought that ultimately sealed the deal for the Wolves. From November 30th through to February 2nd, a span of 10 games, the Wolves picked up just one win. They lost six in a row to start the tough stretch, putting themselves in a hole that was ultimately too deep to climb out of.

Now, GPRC did close the regular season with four straight wins to close the gap, but it was too little, too late. They finished two points out of fourth in the division, which was occupied by the Rustlers. With that, they finished eight points out of a playoff spot.

Looking ahead to the 2019-20 season, the Wolves will be looking for a more consistent showing throughout the season, with the hopes of making it back to the post-season. In order to do that, they will have to find a way to make up for losing seven key pieces from last year’s team.

Head Coach Evan Lloyd is excited about the talent he brings in, but is also excited for those players who have moved on and are beginning the next chapter of their respective basketball careers.

Who’s Gone?

For the Wolves, they are set to embark on a new season with a new-look roster. From last year’s team, many of the team’s contributors have moved on from the program, leaving holes to fill up and down the roster. In fact, seven players who averaged at least 5.6 points per game last season are off to begin the next chapter of their basketball careers.

The most notable loss from 2018-19 is forward Payton Tirrell. Last season, Tirrell averaged 16.9 points, 6.8 rebounds, and 3.7 assists per game while shooting 43.7% from the field and 39.6% from three-point range. For his efforts, Tirrell was named to the ACAC North Division All-Conference Second Team at year’s end.

Replacing Tirrell’s impact on both ends of the floor will be tough, without question.

Tirrell, Payton
Payton Tirrell was named to the ACAC North Division All-Conference Second Team in 2018-19, and the Wolves will be in tough to replace his production in 2019-20. (Source: GPRC)

In total, four players have transferred from the Wolves after last year. A pair of players have transferred from the program, but will remain in the ACAC North Division with the Augustana Vikings. Both Jonathan Mueller and Dane Phillipenko will stay in the North Division, meaning they will take on their former team a handful of times throughout the 2019-20 campaign.

Mueller averaged 8.7 points per game last season on 36.7% shooting from the floor and 37.1% shooting from beyond the arc. He gave the Wolves a strong option from long range, and he will look to do the same for the Vikings. As for Phillipenko, he posted 6.0 points and 3.3 rebounds per contest on 38.1% shooting from the floor.

Both Mueller and Phillipenko will look to use their ACAC experience with their new team. Lloyd is looking forward to facing both players this season in conference play.

“We were excited to see Dane Philipenko and Jon Mueller continue their academic programs at University of Alberta-Augustana,” said Lloyd. “It will be an awesome opportunity to compete against them as well.”

Vishal Dhillon is also transferring to another ACAC program, and he will also remain in the North Division. Dhillon will suit up for the NAIT Ooks in 2019-20. Last season, he posted 5.6 points per game on 44.2% shooting from the field and 45.6% from three-point range. Dhillon gives the Ooks a three-point threat, and is a player who could be in for a breakout season.

Jeremy Bishop (Arlington, Wash.) is making the jump to the U Sports ranks, having committed to Thomas Cory and the Nipissing Lakers. Last season, Bishop posted 5.8 points and 5.0 rebounds per game, giving the Wolves solid production at both ends of the floor. He shot 40.9% from the field over the course of the year.

Rounding out the group of departing athletes is the pair of Alexander Joseph and Logan Rempel. Both players put together strong seasons in 2018-19. Joseph saw the floor in just 10 games, making one start along the way. He posted 10.1 points and 6.3 rebounds per game on 53.9% shooting from the floor.

Rempel ranked fourth on the team in scoring, averaging 9.1 points and 2.8 rebounds per game. He shot 35.5% from the floor and 35.3% from three-point range for the year.

The Wolves lose their share of talent from last season, but they return the ACAC’s brightest young star and others who will look to step into expanded roles this season. Add in a large recruiting class and the Wolves still have the look of a team that can contend in 2019-20.

Who’s Back?

While Lloyd and the Wolves lose a lot in terms of production from last season, they have the luxury of returning the reigning ACAC North Division Rookie of the Year. In addition, they return four role players who will look to take on expanded roles in 2019-20 as veterans on a younger roster.

Liam O’Hallahan is back and ready to build off a stellar first season with GPRC. Last year, O’Hallahan was named the ACAC North Division Rookie of the Year and was selected to the ACAC North Division All-Conference Second Team for his efforts on the court. O’Hallahan is the top returning scorer for the Wolves from last year’s team, and he will look to lead a young GPRC team back to the post-season.

In 2018-19, O’Hallahan was the team’s top rebounder, averaging 7.1 rebounds per contest. He finished second on the team in scoring, averaging 16.0 points per game. O’Hallahan was consistent on offense, recording double-digit points in 19 of his 20 regular season appearances. This season, he will be the undisputed go-to option on offense, and he will be looking to build upon his standout debut season.

One player who will be in for an expanded role this season is Tucker Payne-McLeod. Last season, Payne-McLeod saw the floor in 18 contests, but made just one start over the course of the season. He posted 5.9 points and 2.0 rebounds per game while shooting 55.4% from the field. He is the second-highest scorer back from the 2018-19 roster, and he looks to be in prime position for a much larger role.

Another key rotation player who will be in for an expanded role is Darian Goertzen. He saw the floor in all 24 regular season games a year ago, but came off the bench each time. Goertzen posted 4.2 points and 2.8 rebounds per contest. This season, look for Goertzen to factor into the starting lineup on a regular basis, at least to start the year, while the newcomers get settled into the ACAC.

Rounding out the group of returnees, Joshua Burnstead and Jeremy Pynn will give the team a veteran presence while also looking to increase their production. Burnstead averaged 2.6 points per game over 14 regular season appearances, 11 of which were starts. Pynn posted 1.3 points per game over 19 appearances.

The Wolves have a star to build around in O’Hallahan, and a handful of returnees who will look to take on bigger roles this season. The Wolves also welcome in a recruiting class that has reached double figures, which bodes well for the program, both now and into the future.

Incoming Talent

“This year’s recruiting class is pretty solid,” added Lloyd. “[It’s] definitely an exciting group of athletes that all have something to bring to the table from their previous experiences.”

For the Wolves, their recruiting class has reached double-digits. Lloyd and his staff will bring in a total of 11 new recruits to the men’s basketball program at GPRC, and they all bring their own strengths and experiences to the mix.

Among the extensive list of recruits, you’ll find players from different regions of Canada, the United States, and all over the World. The Wolves’ recruiting class has athletes from as far as Las Vegas, Nevada and Nigeria coming to Grande Prairie to continue their basketball journey.

Bryce Hardisty-Phillips is no stranger to the GPRC gym. Back in March, the High Prairie native was named MVP of the 2019 High School All-Star Game that took place on the home court of the Wolves. The local product will look to continue his string of success, this time at the collegiate level.

Brandon Lyons won’t have to go far for his post-secondary education, as the Grande Prairie product will suit up for the hometown Wolves this season. Nathan Kurikilodil comes to the Wolves from Edmonton, and he will be looking to build off a strong high school career that saw him help his high school team bring home a silver medal at Metro in 2017.

The full list of recruits will be released ahead of the season for the Wolves, but Lloyd is excited for what lies ahead with the influx of new talent.

“This year’s team excites me as I’m bringing in a new wave of recruits,” continued Lloyd. “This team will be exciting as its one of the more athletically gifted teams I’ve coached in recent years, should be a fun year and can’t wait to get started.”

Last season got away from GPRC a bit. A dismal 10-game stretch was bookended by a strong start and finish to the season. Despite a four-game winning streak to close the year, the Wolves dug themselves too deep a hole to climb out of during the middle portion of the season.

Heading into the new campaign, the Wolves have an influx of new talent in the mix, all of whom are hungry to leave their mark on the ACAC. With the ACAC North Division Rookie of the Year back for season two, GPRC will look to build off their positives from last season and bring forth a more consistent level of play through the entire year.

Be sure to bookmark our 2019-20 Season Previews page to keep up with the previews as they are released online.

– T. Bennett

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