The road to a possible fourth consecutive title begins tonight for the defending Atlantic champion Cape Breton University women’s basketball team.
First stop on that long journey is in Antigonish where CBU coaching staff expects an energetic and competitive St. FX X-Women squad to greet them in their Atlantic University Sport season opener.
“You are getting 40 minutes of a basketball game out of them, that’s for sure,” Capers head coach Fabian MacKenzie said of the X-Women. “They are going to be up-tempo, they shoot the ball well and are going to play with a lot of intensity.”
Like the game against St. FX, MacKenzie expects nothing to come easy to the Capers this year as they try to become the first AUS team to win four straight titles since the University of New Brunswick won 10 straight from 1963-72.
“I wouldn’t put money down any time soon,” he said of another league championship, which would be the Capers sixth overall. “We have a long way to go. We have talent, but we have to maximize that talent. Until we decide that we are going to maximize it we are not going to be that championship calibre basketball team.”
He’s mostly basing that blunt assessment on the team’s pre-season performance. Typically, a 3-3 record is considered sub-par for the team.
“We’ve had some good moments and some bad moments so far in the exhibition season. It’s going to be a slow climb for us. I think we are going to be pretty good down the road, but the slow climb is going to happen. It is going to take a while.”
Part of the slow climb is dealing with the departure of six veterans and growing pains that can be associated with the arrival of six promising new performers.
Newcomers include Vickie Thistle, an all-Canadian at Memorial who transferred to CBU for a fifth-year, Jessica Steed, a transfer from New Brunswick, and American imports Cassie Cooke and Hope Edwards.
Rounding out the new six are Brittany Hollands and Sarah MacDonald.
MacKenzie said it will be important for his returning veterans to show the newcomers the CBU way of playing the game.
“When Kelsey Hodgson, Kari Everett and Karmen Brown left they kind of passed the torch and said ‘you take care of this team.’ Now we have Jahlica Kirnon, Stephanie Toxopeus, and Nici Works. They are going to pass that torch to the next group to say ‘take care of this program.’”
If the learning curve is not a long one, perhaps a fourth consecutive title will await at the end of the road after all.
“We have tremendous talent, more talent maybe than I’ve ever had here, but with talent comes responsibility to develop that talent. That’s what is going to take some time, getting us together and fitting all the pieces in. It’ll be a little while.”