With a record of 6-5 and with a team comprised of mostly first- and second-years, Dinos women's basketball head coach Shawnee Harle is having the most fun she's had in years.
"They have something special and it's those intangible, you probably can't put it into words," she says. "But when you've coached for a long time, you can feel it."
So far, this team is ahead of where Harle thought they would be at this time of year. Through the first half of the season, the Dinos are in the middle of a logjam of teams with six wins in the Prairie Division of the Canada West conference, despite holding only two players with more than two years of experience, Megan Lang, a third-year, and Ashley Hill, a fourth, and running into injury troubles. Esther Graff, who had a solid rookie season coming off the bench, was lost early with a torn ACL, and two other players entering their second year, Ashley Ashman and Alex Cole, have also missed time due to knee injuries. The Dinos started the winter semester season with a game in Lethbridge, where they were only able to dress eight players. They lost, but by a narrow 90-83 margin.
"One thing that eight players gives you is it gives kids who typically would not play, a lot of minutes," Harle says. "We have two kids starting that was certainly never the plan. We have kids, first player off the bench -- that was never part of the plan. The good part of that is they're gaining experience you can't get any other way."
It's been a learning season for many Dinos, including rookie guard Tamara Jarrett. After half a season of intense, physical Canadian Interuniversity Sport basketball, she was pretty happy to have the winter break to recover. However, the leap from high school to university is as much about the mental as it is about the physical.
"It's hard to deal with playing smarter basketball, pretty much," Jarrett says. "In high school you can get away with a lot of stuff. In CIS, you have to know what you're doing and play smart."
"A lot of it is just balancing school with practice every day, weights, everything like that," adds rookie point guard Tilly Ettinger. "Also, it's such a different game, as a point guard, there are so many more things I have to think about and be accountable for compared to high school."
The Dinos are about to get another lesson in the form of the arch rival University of Alberta Pandas, who come to town for back-to-back games to start a six-game homestand. The Pandas sit just one game ahead of the Dinos with a 7-5 record.
"I go in knowing exactly that it's going to be a bloodbath, pretty much," Jarrett says. "They're going to be out for blood. Prepare for physical, physical, physical. I haven't really thought about the mental part on how to prepare, but I just know that it's going to be a hard game."
With the way her young players are playing. Harle is excited for the rest of the season and for the potential of what this team can achieve much further down the road.
"This team has some qualities [that] could very well allow us to overachieve down the stretch here and what excites me even more is when I look at year two and year three and year four, and then year five, our best is yet to come," says Harle. "And I'm really looking forward to have this team take me along for the ride."