By Sean Rooney on November 4, 2016.
In the midst of fast breaks, three-point shots and hard-nosed rebounds, it’s easy to forget on a Friday night that the tag of athlete for a Medicine Hat College Rattler is really secondary in the grand scheme of things.
As the women’s basketball team gears up for tonight’s season opener (6 p.m. against Briercrest at the Snake Pit), perhaps the most important thing they’ve done in the past month is hit the books, not the hardcourt.
“I’m actually studying for the first time in my life,” said rookie post Paige Cooper, drawing guffaws from her teammates nearby. “That’s a shock.”
Cooper, a Hat High graduate, found herself getting behind quick in classes but has since put in the extra work. That’s an analogy that’s transferred over to the basketball team, too. The transition to college life is a big one, and Cooper is determined to succeed.
“With the extra shots we’re having to take and the extra training in the weight room, it’s preparing us more for everything, really,” she said.
The example isn’t just with the rookies, as few of them as there are this year. With new head coach Clayton Nielsen taking over from Jason McLester, there’s been more to learn in the pre-season for the veterans too. He’s instituted a half-dozen defensive schemes, plus multiple offences and in-bounds plays.
So maybe it was a good thing that the schedule saw Medicine Hat with a first-week bye.
“It’s a huge difference,” said fourth-year post Kennedy Werre. “Every coach is going to be different and he’s bringing new stuff to the table that we haven’t had before. It’s been awesome, just a different type of tempo in practice.”
Werre noted that the bye may have helped for the academic side of things also. The first set of mid-terms and papers have come and gone, and this week basketball has an easier time being the focus for the women.
It’ll need to be, because if the late start wasn’t tough, preparing for two different opponents out of the gate certainly is. Briercrest was 2-19 last year, whereas Saturday’s (road) opponent, the Lethbridge Kodiaks, were 21-0 before being upset by NAIT in the conference semifinal.
At 13-8 last year and now with more experience on the floor, the Rattlers will look to move up the ranks. But they’re starting with four huge pieces sidelined to injury.
Second-year guard Morgan Muir is out for at least the first semester after surgery on her calf to deal with a circulation problem. Kendall Kuntz, an Eagle Butte grad who averaged 15 points a game the last three seasons at SAIT before transferring home, tore her ACL and is out for the season. Rachel Sherven had knee surgery Thursday and is also done. And Tess Lindquist has a concussion, meaning there’s no telling when she’ll be cleared to play. At practice Wednesday she sat on the sidelines doing schoolwork.
“It’s crazy, I’m so tense, ready to go,” said Werre. “It’s been kind of good for us because we’ve had a lot of injuries, it’s given us some time to heal the acute ones.”
Get through these tough early weeks, and it hopefully will pay off in the long run. That might work for their classes, too.