June 22nd, 2024

Horns happy to be back

By Dale Woodard on September 2, 2021.

As they head into their training camp, it’s not difficult to see the University of Lethbridge Pronghorns women’s basketball team is happy to be back on the court.

It’s especially easy to tell when those smiles aren’t covered by masks.

After losing the 2020 Canada West season to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Horns headed into Day 3 of their training camp Wednesday afternoon at the 1st Choice Savings Centre, minus masks.

That, of course, made it easier to see some of the grinning faces.

“It’s very different seeing smiles since we don’t have masks on,” said fifth-year Pronghorns veteran Amy Mazutinec. “Just the energy, I think, is different. You can tell it’s been a long time coming and everyone is excited to be back together and make each other better.”

Perhaps not even a mask would have been enough to conceal the grin on Horns’ head coach Dave Waknuk’s face.

“I’m really happy with what I’ve seen so far,” said Waknuk. “The athletes have had uneven training (this) summer, but have put the work in and I feel they’ve put in a really good foundation. We talk about building good habits and solid foundation for our team to go forward and we can do that because of all the work they’ve done outside of the gym. So I think they’re in a really good place. The energy is great right now and it’s a group that’s happy be here and play together. It’s a veteran group in a way. So it’s a team that knows what needs to be done and can really focus on what the task at hand is. It’s been fun to coach so far and it’s been fun to watch them improve every day. You have leaders that set examples and leaders to guide them in the decisions they’re going to make.”

That gives Waknuk a veteran-to-rookie ratio he likes.

“I really like the mix,” he said. “That’s been the biggest part. There are a lot of new faces. It’s nine new faces from Feb. 14, 2020 when we last played. But in reality, we did have five or six of them last year for a full year, so we did train in some ways. So it’s kind of nine new faces, but in a way it’s really three or four new faces. But we’re really happy with what it looks like so far.”

Still, there will be a learning curve for the rookies.

“I think the new players here quickly see how competitive it is,” said Waknuk.

“I think they see how much excitement is here and how fun it can be to be successful here and to be part of a winning culture and the things we’ve built for the last few years and get pulled into it.”

Mazutinec noted some eager learners among the new players.

“I’ve noticed they’re really coachable,” she said. “When they make mistakes they ask how they can make it better. They’re really looking to learn, which is really good.”

From what she’s seen through three training camp sessions, they’re also fast, said Mazutinec.

“It’s a little sporadic right now, but we’re moving really fast, passing and running. Everything is going super fast.”

Heading into her fifth year, the product of Stirling is ready to lead.

“I like the responsibility and trying to be a leader and set an example for my teammates,” said Mazutinec. “I’m excited to see where my fifth year goes.”

The Horns look to build on their 2019-20 season in which they went 11-9 to finish ninth in the conference, losing in 93-85 in double overtime to the University of Northern British Columbia Timberwolves in the Canada West play-in game Feb. 14 of 2020 at the 1st Choice Savings Centre.

They’ll open their season Oct. 29 and 30 when they host the Calgary Dinos at the 1st Choice Savings Centre.

With tip-off almost two months away, Waknuk noted his team’s depth.

“We have depth at every position and our scrimmages are going to be some of our best competition,” he said.

“I really like our forward group as a collective. I think there are a lot of interchangeable pieces there and the same thing with our guards. I feel like we have people who can do a little bit of everything. So from a coaching standpoint it makes me excited. We can look different and we can try some different things technically, tactically and strategically because we have people who can do a little bit of everything. It’s a pretty versatile group and it’s a pretty deep group.”

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