After posting a near-perfect conference record of 18-2 last season, the CBU women's basketball team suffered a shock semi-final defeat to Memorial University at the 2018/19 AUS championships. With this defeat still prominent in their collective memory, the Capers are back and more motivated than ever this season; to compete, to win and to reclaim their spot at the summit of the AUS.
With preparations for the new season well underway, fourth-year guard Monique Calliste says the team has been using last year's semi-final loss as fuel to motivate them for the upcoming campaign.
"We were all really shocked by it. We know that we didn't play our best basketball in that game and it's something that coach uses to push and motivate us in practice every day. So, that's what we use as a goal. We have a lot of new faces too, they don't really understand, but when we explain it to them they know what they have to do on the court and we're hoping to make it through to the finals this year."
Despite the semi-final defeat and exodus of influential players last year, CBU still find themselves in a promising position going forward thanks to their legendary head coach, Fabian Mackenzie. The 2019/20 season will mark Mackenzie's 21styear in charge of the women's basketball team and the reigning AUS coach of the year remains buoyant despite the disappointment of last season.
"We ran into the worst possible opponent who provided the worst match-ups for us. It's why sport is often fun for the fans. A supposed underdog, MUN wasn't that much of an underdog, can win on any given day. We have been growing every day in practice so far. We have had our ups and downs with consistency being our biggest issue but we are trying to take care of the basketball and play solid defense."
Having finished last season in first place with a one-game advantage over their nearest rivals, UPEI, the Capers will surely face stiffer competition in the AUS this year after losing their leading scorer, Hannah Brown. Brown not only broke the CBU single-season scoring record but was also named a U-Sports first team All Canadian and AUS MVP. Life after Brown is sure to present it's own challenges and Coach Mackenzie is remaining realistic about his side's chances this season.
"Like every young team, we will have our struggles. Consistency is going to be a big issue and the rookies have to battle their way through the adjustment to a higher level of basketball with much more physical contact and intense style of play. Every team concerns me right now. We are a young team that will most likely face inconsistency and our goal is to make the play-offs."
What CBU lack in experience, Monique Calliste believes, can be made up for with pure athleticism and physicality. Having experienced a varied career within the sport and off the back of a top five season in terms of points per game, Calliste has faith that this young squad can band together and compete with the very best in the conference.
"We have a lot of athleticism on this team. That's one thing that coach is always saying in practice 'we are more athletic than all the other teams.' If I'm not having a good game, I can count on others to have a good game, we all depend on each other and have each other's backs."
With the exodus of influential players last season Coach Mackenzie will no doubt be looking to more senior members of the squad to step up in 2019/20. One of those players is MacKenzee Ryan. Ryan, a third-year Biology student, was one of CBU's most effective players in 2018/19 and is relishing the possibility of increased responsibility.
"I am taking on the leadership role head-on. I do want this responsibility and more of a leadership role here. I might not be the oldest player here but I am the most veteran player on this program along with my teammate Ava Prosser. I've had some great mentors during my time here such as; Alison Keough, Valentina Primossi Hannah Brown and Maddie Munro who showed me the ropes and gave me more confidence to move on this year. I want to make sure I am leading this group in the right direction."
With Ryan and Calliste entering their third and fourth year of eligibility respectively, Coach Mackenzie is hoping that this experienced duo will prove to be difference makers both on and off the court for CBU during their upcoming campaign.
"MacKenzee will play a large role this year as she will be required to lead the group while also scoring from the point guard spot. MacKenzee has underrated speed and is also underrated as a defender. I think she could have a very good season. We are also hoping Monique can score at a high level while also being a presence as an on-ball defender. If Monique stays out of foul trouble she can be a positive impact on the season."
Having experienced the crushing semi-final defeat of last year, MacKenzee Ryan will be looking to take a more balanced mentality to expectations for the new season. Not wanting to tempt fate, the third-year guard believes that a day to day approach is the best way forward for this young squad.
"I don't think anybody wants to jump ahead and say 'okay we're winning a banner,' you never want to look at it that way. We don't know what the outcome is going to be this season, obviously, we want to be positive about it but we need to be able to take it game by game. First goal: make the play-offs. If we get to the play-offs then we reassess, get together and try to win a banner."
The CBU women's basketball team open their home schedule against Memorial on November 9th at 6.00pm. You can also visit www.gocapersgo.ca for all of the latest Capers news and ticket information. CBU's Make sure you are there to cheer the Capers towards their goal of an AUS banner this season!