May 21st, 2024

After many days, Horns are back

By Dale Woodard on October 28, 2021.

Google’s your friend.

Or in the case of the University of Lethbridge Pronghorns women’s basketball team, it’s a slam dunk.

After losing the 2020 Canada West season to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Pronghorns return to the 1st Choice Savings Centre Friday night at 6 p.m. when they welcome the Calgary Dinos to town to tip off the season.

Needless to say, it’s been quite a few days since it was Friday night game night on the Horns stomping grounds.

As for how many? We turn it over to Pronghorns fifth-year veteran forward, historian and Google search expert Jessica Zarowny to crunch the numbers.

“I googled the math and it was 623 days since we played in this gym last, so we’re very pumped,” she said.

In fact, it was Feb. 14, 2020 – a mere month before the pandemic knocked the world on it’s ear – that the Horns last played, a 93-85 double overtime loss to the University of Northern British Columbia Timberwolves in the Canada West play-in game. That ended a season in which the Pronghorns went 11-9.

Fast forward over 600 days later and Friday night’s game – and Saturday’s rematch at 5 p.m. – will be anything but a Valentine’s Day heartbreaker.

“There’s a lot of energy in the air,” said Pronghorns head coach Dave Waknuk prior to team practice Wednesday afternoon. “I think it’s the realization that we’re actually here. A lot of times you’re wondering if this is going to happen. But there is definitely an energy around campus and the team. A little bit of nervous energy, but that’s fine. That’s to be expected. But I think there’s a lot of excitement just being able to play in front of people and get back to doing what everybody is here to do.”

The Pronghorns went 3-2 in the exhibition season at tournament stops in Regina and Kamloops, where they faced the Regina Cougars, Brandon Bobcats, Trinity Western University Spartans, Thompson Rivers University WolfPack and UBC Thunderbirds.

“I think it was important,” said Zarowny of the preseason matchups. “We’re going to see the same four teams eight times this year, so to get the scoop from everywhere else and get some different systems, different players and different teams is huge for us. We got a taste for everything for the start of the season.”

Waknuk likened the exhibition season to a puzzle.

“We knew what pieces we had, we just had to see how the pieces fit,” he said. “I think we got a good chance to understand who we are right now, so I think that’s been good. Then it’s just the natural thing of travelling and chemistry, playing different opponents and trying some things. It’s feeling like it’s gelling together. We’ve just been kind of doing our own thing for a year-and-a-half and now it feels like we have a team and we’re going to be at our best come Friday.”

Zarowny joins a veteran-laden Pronghorns women’s team this year.

Kacie Bosch and Asnate Fomina – the 2019-20 leading scorers – and defensive player of the year Katie Keith have graduated and moved on, but Jessica Haenni and Amy Mazutinec return, along with Zarowny and Isabel Rattai.

Among the nine new faces on the Pronghorns are Millay Johnson, who played for the Pronghorns during the 2017-28 season.

Canada West transfers Makenna Ledgister (Alberta Pandas), Haily Weaver (Victoria Vikes) and Aimee Wilson (Alberta Pandas) have also been added to the mix.

“We are an older team this year and I think there are some advantages to it,” said Waknuk.

“I feel like we’re able to move a little bit faster on concepts. We don’t have to teach things like compete and culture, those things are there. Now it’s just managing our bodies and dealing with the emotions of excitement, the high and lows of the season. But having a veteran core will help keep us steady throughout the year and I think that’s going to be a positive asset for us throughout the season.”

For her part, Zarowny – a product of the LCI Clippers in her high school years – plans to be the same vocal lead she’s always been.

“I’ve been around and I’ve run the systems before. I think I have that in the bag.

It’s familiar to me and I’ve seen these teams for four year now, so I kind of know what to expect from each of them.”

“I can lead with that experience.”

And her newer teammates have proven to be quick studies as the season gets underway Friday night.

“They’re looking really good,” said Zarowny. “I think they’ve figured out the pace of game we play and they’ve figured out their strengths and found out their pace and their way on the team. They’re receptive, they’ve got the systems down and have picked it up really quick, which is nice to see.”

That will get put to the test tonight against the Dinos, who the Pronghorns didn’t play in preseason, but nonetheless got a glimpse of.

“We got to watch their games and observe and get a feel for what their style of play is and how they’re looking,” said Zarowny. “The Dinos are always the Dinos. So they’re going to play fast and try to make us make mistakes. They’re going to speed everything up, but we’re going to do our best to play our systems and that’s going to be important for us. Beyond that, it’s just going to be whoever plays to their advantage the best.”

“Calgary is always a tough team,” added Waknuk. “They’re well coached and loaded with talent. It’s the same thing this year. We saw them play a little bit in preseason, but we haven’t played them yet. But we expect them to be up-tempo and be aggressive. That’s just the brand of basketball they play. We know we have to be at our best to hang with them and beat them. But we’re confident we’ve been getting better every time we’ve been training and we feel like we’re a good matchup and ready to go for them.”

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