(FREDERICTON, NB) Training camp is long over.
Even the exhibition season is just a memory.
It’s tonight they’re focused on… and the 19 Atlantic University Sport regular season games to follow.
The UNB Varsity Reds men’s and women’s basketball teams open their 2017-18 season tonight, on home court, against the Cape Breton University Capers.
On the women’s side of the double-header, the Varsity Reds open against the defending AUS champs.
But there’s been some turnover for the Capers. Six of the eleven players on the roster are in their first or second years of eligibility. The team features three fifth year players, including Alison Keough(Marion Bridge, NS), the reigning AUS MVP.
Two weeks ago, at a tournament at Ryerson University, UNB beat CBU 79-56.
“Since we've had the opportunity to see our opponent, some of the jitters and nerves are out of our system,” says fifth year Varsity Reds forward Hannah Currie(Collingwood, ON). “We know what to expect and are prepared to match up.”
Regardless of the opponent, Varsity Reds head coach Jeff Speedy is excited to start the season.
It will be his 13th leading the V-Reds.
“We have a veteran group and a group of students-athletes I like a lot,” says Speedy. “I’m definitely looking forward to watching them all do their thing.”
The men’s side of the double-header would appear to be an easier bet.
The Capers went 0-20 last season.
Varsity Reds head coach Brent Baker isn’t taking anything for granted though. He believes his team is ready.
“Hopefully, we will be ready to play at a high level on Friday night,” says Baker. “We’ve made some strides lately, but there is still plenty of work in front of us.”
The men’s team saw some turnover, but returns guard Javon Masters(Kitchener, ON) for his fifth and final season of U SPORTS eligibility.
Masters is a two-time AUS MVP and a four-time AUS 1st team All-Star, coming off a bit of a down season.
“Our pre-season hasn’t been bad. We finished 6-2,” says Masters. “We have a young team, so it took a while to see everyone’s strengths and weaknesses, and put them together as one group.”
Baker will rely on Masters to lead offensively, but expects his team to come together on defence.
“Defensively, our communication and intensity have to improve,” says Baker. “Offensively, our shot selection, at times, is suspect.”
The women saw four players graduate last season, including Katelyn Mangold, the AUS Defensive Player of the Year, and were dealt a blow when first-year point guard Bailey Black(Miramichi, NB) suffered a season-ending knee injury during their first pre-season game.
Veteran Jane Boyle(Halifax, NS) will also miss the season due to injury.
Still, Speedy is optimistic.
“We have three former AUS All-Stars on our roster,” says Speedy. “I would say their strengths, as players, and our experience, would be our biggest assets. We have a great young point guard as well, who I think is one of the best in the country.”
The Varsity Reds did add former Fredericton High School stand-out Emily MacLeod for the season.
After four years at Acadia, MacLeod is playing her final season of eligibility at home.
Currie likes the addition of MacLeod, and feels it brings more experience to the V-Reds line-up.
“We lost some key players last year. They gave us height and energy,” says Currie. “However, we have had players step into these roles. We also have a lot of returning players who add experience.”
The Varsity Reds women tip-off against the Capers at 6:00pm, at the Richard J. Currie Center.
The men’s game will follow, scheduled to tip-off at 8:00.
“When that ball goes up Friday, it all starts again, the pursuit of an AUS title in my final season,” says Masters. “We definitely have a shot at hoisting that trophy come March.”
“It’s the first step on the road to becoming AUS champs,” says Currie.