By Tommy Osborne, October 18 2016 —
Amidst the competitive atmosphere, constant calls of encouragement from teammates and the ever-present voice of head coach Damian Jennings, one thing is abundantly clear about the 2016–17 Dinos women’s basketball team — the chemistry is something special.
Despite welcoming 10 new players — over half of the current roster — to the program, team culture is stronger than ever. With first-year students travelling from across Canada to train with the team, the influx of new talent will be a valuable asset.
Katie Upham, one of the new recruits on the Dinos team, came from Nova Scotia to join the Dinos.
“It’s different basketball here,” Upham said. “The girls are a lot more competitive — a lot more intense. That’s why I wanted to come out here.”
When asked if there were any significant reasons for the team’s success — the women’s team began the season with an impressive 6–1 record — Upham said that the teammates share a special relationship with one another.
“I would say how close we are off of the court,” she said. “We are just one big family. I’ve never been on a team this close.”
Upham is just one of the many new faces that have infused the team with a new kind of energy. Fourth-year veteran Brianna Ghali feels the effects of such a large group of rookies.
“We’ve had a culture change within the team,” Ghali said. “It’s been huge and I really like it. We play off of each other — and I think we have quite good chemistry for only being together for a few months. I’m really excited about this new group.”
This impressive team chemistry has allowed the new-look Dinos to secure a dominant record in the early season. But while the team already looks solid, they continue to search for new ways to improve.
Jennings uses a hands-on coaching approach, demonstrating new techniques and encouraging his athletes to think outside of the box in-game.
“The transition of that chemistry [off the court] is absolutely amazing,” Jennings said. “We’re waiting to see that on the floor in a really competitive, consistent way. We’ve shown glimpses of very exciting basketball to watch and we’ve also shown glimpses of a very new team together.”
That competitive spirit stands on the court, most noticeably in the team’s aggressive approach. A strong team dynamic means the players trust one another and bring a more unified force to offence and defence.
The approach has already led to crushing wins over their opponents, like their 84–43 dominance over Mount Royal University in the season’s first Crowchild Classic.
“What we really like to talk about is attacking,” Ghali said. “We want to be attacking on offence, we want to be attacking on defence. We want to outcompete our opponents — whether [that opponent is] ourselves, a scrimmage team or another CIS opponent.”
Ghali’s comments reflect coach Jennings’ philosophy this season. He hopes to develop his team’s
assertiveness and push for a position in the CIS playoffs this year.
“The real question with any team is [whether] the chemistry off the court [can] turn into something assertive on the floor,” Jennings said. “When I tend to work with new groups, the click seems to happen on the floor from January onwards. If they’re able to get that to transition, then that could happen before January.”
The Dinos have already been dominant in many facets of the game. Five of their six wins have been double-digit victories. The defence has been stellar, forcing opponents to take shots at poor angles and coming up with plenty of stops and turnovers.
Jennings is confident that with the influx of talent, his team is capable of taking home a Canada West championship title.
“Maybe not in the first year, but for sure in a period of time,” he said. “I think the chemistry and the fact that we got together early [helps]. We could be a championship team, there’s no doubt about it.”
The Dinos will play the University of British Columbia Thunderbirds on Oct. 28 after a 16-day break. They will return to Calgary to play the University of Manitoba Bisons in a double header on Nov. 4 and 5, ushering in the start of the regular season.