It may take them a little while to show it, but the Marauders fully intend to compete with the best in the OUA this season.
A young McMaster lineup will see its first conference action on Nov. 11 and 12 as they welcome the Carleton Ravens and Ottawa Gee-Gees to the Burridge Gym to open the OUA basketball season.
After a difficult preseason slate saw the largely untested Maroon and Grey drop six of eight exhibition contests, the squad will find itself back at square one to begin the competitive schedule.
While their early endeavours rarely ended in victory, McMaster coach Theresa Burns argues that the trials of exhibition play were beneficial for her inexperienced charges.
“We purposefully planned a tough preseason,” said Burns. “That was all planned in order to get a lot of young players some tough experience up front. Nine of our 15 players are in first or second year, so we’re still a very young team and we needed to get those players up to speed as quickly as we could.
“We saw great minutes from some people and a lot of players contributed.”
After a 2010 campaign that saw catastrophic injury concerns for the Marauders, the team is looking to be a much healthier unit this year and will enter competition on the weekend with 14 of its 15 competitors fit to play.
The notable exception will be veteran guard Liz Burns, who remains sidelined with a nagging ankle injury.
With the sheer number of young players in the lineup, the Maroon and Grey expect some growing pains as they begin their 2011 journey. Coach Burns indicates that her team may struggle early, but will look to do its damage when it counts most.
“We’re going to be very process-oriented this year,” said the coach pragmatically. “Obviously we would love to win games – that’s what we’re in this to do. But what we really want is to be ready when it’s playoff time. We’re going to take the ups and downs as the season goes on.”
Helping the squad through the inevitable adversity of the OUA season will be its core of veteran leaders, including fifth-year post Taylor Chiarot and forwards Alyska Lukan and Jackie Nimec.
Burns singled out Chiarot for particular praise at this early stage, and indicated that fellow veteran Vanessa Bonomo has assumed an encouraging role as well.
“Taylor has been a workhorse for us so far,” said the coach. “In our last three games she put up twenty-plus points in each. She’s playing the way you would expect a fifth-year player to play. Vanessa Bonomo is doing a fantastic job at the point position for us.
“She might be our most improved player over the last 12 months.”
With the preseason behind them, the Marauders waste no time in launching into the deep end of the OUA pool, as their opening opponents on the season both debut inside the CIS top-ten.
Despite the difficulty of the task ahead, McMaster’s bench boss indicates that her squad will not shrink in the face of the Ravens or Gee-Gees.
“We have to try to make those teams uncomfortable,” said Burns. “They’re both veteran teams and Carleton is ranked third in the country right now. Any time you face a team like that you have to respect them but not overdo it.
“I think what happens sometimes with a top team like that is that people lie back a little bit and play scared and defensively. You have to attack those teams and put your best game on the floor and go after them.”
Burns and her club will hope that such an assertive attitude pays dividends on Nov. 11 and 12. Both games will tip off at the Burridge Gym at 6 p.m.