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Duncan realizes ambition as St. Mary girls hoops coach

By James D. Horne jhorne@paducahsun.com

Family, and more important the relationship her son, Craig, has already fostered as a student, was one of the reasons Gwen Duncan was attracted to the opening St. Mary had for its next girls basketball coach.

"Being a parent of a son who is actively involved in sports here, he plays basketball, so we come to the games and his father and I are involved. So when I saw the opening for the girls coach, knowing it had been a dormant desire for me, I readily prepared my resume and brought it in," said Duncan, who was announced as the Lady Vikings' head coach at a news conference at the school Wednesday afternoon.

"I just took a shot to think I would even be considered to take over the program. So having a child here, and they are only children for a while, along with the things I do as a nurse and in my ministry, I really wanted to do something to solidify my relationship as a mother and be more involved in the things he does. So that's what drew me."

Duncan is taking over for Staci Averill, who on March 13 retired after 14 years.

Averill admitted she's not used to no longer being the coach, but that St. Mary found the right person to replace her.

"I told people I was going to be particular about who was going to replace me after being here for 14 years," Averill said. "But coach Duncan not only brings a wealth of experience in basketball, but a wealth of knowledge about the game. I'm just extremely happy to have her here as part of the St. Mary family, something she has witnessed having a son here at the school. I'm just so excited about her. I said I was going to find someone better than me, and I did that."

Craig said he felt honored knowing one of the reasons his mother wanted the St. Mary's job was because of him.

"It makes me feel really good that I was able to help her in her decision making to do what she really wanted to do," he said. "And what she wanted to do was coach.

"It's great knowing she's going to be here a lot more and that she'll be able to take the basketball program to the next level."

Duncan, 50, is a native of Harleyville, S.C., and graduated from Harleyville-Ridgeville High School, where she won a state championship as a senior and still owns the career records for rebounds and field-goal percentage.

She played basketball, along with softball and volleyball, at Paine College in Augusta, Ga., a Division II program, and was the basketball team's MVP her senior year.

Duncan is also a registered nurse, employed by Lourdes Hospice Home Care, and a pastor for Just By Faith Ministries in Metropolis, Ill. She earned a doctor of philosophy degree from Newburgh Theological Seminary and College of the Bible in Newburgh, Ind., and is a former instructor at Oakwood Christian Academy in Chickamauga, Ga.

St. Mary finished 15-11 last season, just missing the First Region tournament but making the semifinals of the First Region All A Classic. The Lady Vikings will lose four seniors, including All-Purchase selection Alex Durbin and leading scorer Casey Kupper.

Members of next year's team were excited about the program's new direction.

"I'm very excited to have a new coach," rising senior Maria Shockley said. "It's definitely going to be different, but I'm excited because I think it will bring a change that will be good for our team. It's going to be different without coach Averill. But I think it will help us grow as a team and grow closer with a new coach."

Duncan said she just wants to teach the fundamentals of basketball and the life lessons that come from playing sports.

"I want to not only instill the fundamentals - the basics of basketball, the dribbling, the blocking out, learning how to enhance that lung capacity through exercises - things that are important. But basketball also helped shape me to be who I am because of the leadership and fellowship that comes from the game, knowing that the game is not about an individual but about a unit, a team. So it taught me how to share and give. The lessons I learned on the court helped make me the person I am today."

Call James D. Horne, a Sun sports writer, at 270-575-8661 or follow on Twitter @psunsports.

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