Manitoba’s entry at the 17-and-under National Women’s Basketball Championship in Fredericton is young and doesn’t have a lot of offensive firepower, but is still looking at improving on its fifth-place finish from last year.
The squad, which includes Oak Lake’s Heidi Smith and is coached by Brandon’s Don Thomson, has been working on its defence since tryouts were held in April and Thomson believes that will be the key to Manitoba’s success.
"We’re still very, very young and inexperienced in the offensive end," he said. "We’re going to have to be very solid defensively and rebounding the ball and taking care of the basketball going down the floor."
Manitoba has had some success with its defensive game plan. The squad beat an Alberta collegiate team during an exhibition game a few weeks ago and finished second in its age group at a tournament last weekend at Minneapolis, Minn.
There will be one major difference, however, as Manitoba has lost the services of 6-foot-5 centre Emily Potter for the tournament. The Winnipegger cracked the national cadet team roster Wednesday night.
That will increase the team’s emphasis on stopping their opponents, and that will affect Smith.
The 5-foot-6 guard will come off the bench all tournament, and she’s ready to help the team with extra energy.
"(I just want to) get everyone going and be energetic," said Smith, who will travel east of Manitoba for the first time in her life. "Everyone wants to score the baskets, right? Just getting stops and steals and everything like that (is the goal)."
Team Manitoba is focused on winning a medal, but they aren’t taking their preliminary group very lightly.
Manitoba opens the tournament on Monday against Prince Edward Island and will play Newfoundland on Tuesday in the group stage.
Smith said her 15-and-under team lacked focus going into last year’s tournament opener and it cost them. She doesn’t want that to happen again.
"I think we’re pretty focused," she said. "Last year, the 15U team overlooked our first game. We played Nova Scotia and we ended up losing against them and we should have won. We just weren’t expecting it and were unprepared. We just have to play hard no matter what."
Thomson also doesn’t want the team to look too far ahead, as he’s keeping a simple plan for his players.
"We’re just worried about doing what we have to do to be successful," he said. "Next week will take care of next week when it happens."