Feisty and focused A year removed from a bronze medal finish, the women’s basketball team looks to return to form with a newer and younger roster

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By: Andrew Sarkis

With last year in the rear-view mirror, the McMaster women’s basketball team have turned a new page, beginning the 2017-2018 season with an opening night 71-60 win over the Guelph Gryphons. In what was a foul-filled game, the Marauders ultimately came out on top, thanks in part to a team-leading 15-point performance from guard Hilary Hanaka.

It was evident both teams had to shake off a bit of rust during the season-opener, as the game started off slowly on offence for both teams before picking up in the later parts of the game. Head coach Theresa Burns saw that the opener was a scrappy match, and acknowledged that wins did not have to look pretty.

“It was a scrappy game,” Burns said. “Bodies were flying everywhere and there were lots of fouls. It was a very difficult game with lots of contact. For us, they’re not always going to be pretty and you got to be able to adapt to the teams we’re playing.”

Despite the tougher conditions of the game, Burns drew positives from the win, citing the team’s ability to adapt to high-pressure situations as an important factor.

“I was really happy with the pushback that our team showed,” Burns said. “Whether it was diving to the floor for the ball or pushing back on boxouts, our team showed a lot grit and tenacity for 40 minutes. Despite the fact Guelph ramped up the pressure and were trying to play a fast game with us, I was really happy that we made decisions at a fast pace. It took us a minute or two to figure out their pressure and once we did I thought we adapted well.”

Prior to the season-opener, McMaster had a unique international preparation opportunity. Through July 25 to July 30, the team travelled to Taiwan to partake in the Buddha Light International Association Cup Tournament. The Marauders were able compete against teams from seven different countries, an experience that head coach Theresa Burns spoke highly of.

“They’re critical,” said Burns. “To be able to challenge the best teams in the country you have to play the best teams in the country, just to figure ourselves out and show weaknesses in our own game that we need to fix up before heading into league. Playing games in Taiwan was just incredible. International basketball pace, style, intensity and skill level was just off the charts.”

The Marauders were also able to partake in the annual Ryerson Darcel Wright Memorial Tournament on Oct. 20 to Oct. 22. Mac swept the competition, defeating the University of New Brunswick and the host Ryerson Rams en route to a gold medal game victory against the University of Saskatchewan Huskies.

“The Ryerson tournament gave us three good quality out-of-conference games against teams that are going to be top 10 teams all year,” Burns said. “To challenge ourselves that way is fantastic and all about learning what we’re doing well and not doing well to better prepare us for the league.”

With both preliminary games and the season opener out of the way, the Marauders are now focused on moving forward with a lot of new faces on their roster. The departure of notable star player Danielle Boiago marks one of many ways how the team will be much different from the bronze medal winners from last year.

“Well, we’re definitely younger,” said Burns. “Our team last year was heavy with fourth- or fifth-year players. I think that for this year’s team, we’re going to score by committee.”

Having a well-rounded team will be integral for the Marauders in their 2017-2018 campaign. Burns notes that though the team possesses all-star players, having a good supporting cast on both offence and defence will pay dividends for the team.

“We have some people that are going to garner some all-star looks: Linnaea Harper, Hilary Hanaka and Olivia Wilson, in particular,” said Burns. “They’re some of the best players in the league but we also have a great supporting cast that are going to do their fair share of scoring and defence as well.”

Despite evident changes within the landscape of the team, expectations stay the same. With the presence of top-tier facilities and team staff on hand, the players can step forward and aim to achieve these expectations with aid and continuous support.

“We really focus on walking into the gym everyday and focusing on that day and getting better,” Burns stated. “If we operate that way, the results will take care of themselves. We have a fantastic strength and conditioning staff that works with our group. They have the team so well-prepared in strength and fitness. We try to give all support possible.”

With a superb coaching staff and excellent support system behind them, the new-look Marauders will turn to Queen’s University to build off their opening night success. Mac will face the Gaels on Nov. 3 for what promises to be the next step in a successful season.

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