Written By John Short
For a perfect, day-to-day description of a "transitional season," it's helpful to study the NAIT Ooks and their basketball history of 2017-18.
Head coach Todd Warnick expected such a progression, of course. To consider anything else following a bronze medal in an incredibly-difficult national final in the previous would have surprised outsiders who recognize the general level of excellence the veteran coach has and his players have produced, on the floor and in the classroom, during his lengthy career.
"There was a lot of excitement," he recalled in a season-ending conversation. "We introduced four newcomers, and that's a big number for any program."
Next season, it's reasonable to expect, will provide a similar number of changes. Many of the remaining holdovers from the team that shone in the national tournament on their home floor last spring – including Malesha Petterson, Katie Waring and Megan Belcourt – have used their NAIT eligibility.
Already, the recruitment-wise Warnick has stretched his normal hunting area to include some promising youngsters from Saskatchewan: "I have been trying to attract players from that province for a long time; this is my first success."
More details will be provided as the off-season progresses. Warnick said some talented Alberta – and specifically Edmonton – players – have also committed to join the Ooks next season.
Like other ACAC coaches, Warnick has already spread his recruiting net far and wide. Last year, former Keyano Huskies player Kika Greenlee (a Minnesota product) showed up for her final season of eligibility and led the team in many ways. "She deserves to be an all-Canadian," said her coach.
In hindsight, there was much for NAIT to celebrate in the 2017-18 Alberta Colleges Athletic Conference season. "We finished 15-9 in wins and losses last year after our record of 23-and-1 the previous year. We qualified for league playoffs and that's always our first objective."
These successes developed despite "a lot of adverse circumstances that we had to deal with." Mostly, he was referring to injuries but also to the need of many athletes to adjust to new positions and new responsibilities.
Among the many casualties were Belcourt and second-year standout Sydney Hurlburt with concussion issues and Petterson with a lengthy bout of shin splints which limited her impressive speed.
2017-2018 Award Winners
Rookie Of The Year – Allison Hunder
Leadership – Leah VandenBoogaard
Silver Torch (MVP) – Sydney Hurlburt
"In some ways, those injuries made us better," he said. "The character that a lot of our kids showed was really impressive."
Any rational observer – and every Oilers fan – has come to recognize the foolishness of projecting previous results to a coming season, but it's fair to suggest the annual ACAC parity makes the chore even more difficult in women's hoops.
"Last year, there was one point where (a couple of coaches) and I figured out how the season could end in a four-way tie for first place. If only a couple of games had gone in a different direction on one weekend, it really could have happened."
The statement prompted one final question – "What would you have done?" – and ended in a typical Warnick-style response: "We would have adjusted."