Canada West debuts for Heat hoops
There aren't too many illusions clouding Darren Semeniuk's expectations heading into his team's inaugural season of Canada West competition.
The head coach fully expects his UBC Okanagan Heat men's basketball squad to undergo its share of growing pains in Canadian Interuniversity Sport.
Then again, Semeniuk isn't about to set the bar too low, either.
"We have to keep things in perspective, this is a big jump to be competitive in this league and we need to be realistic," said Semeniuk, in his seventh season at the helm. "But if we come in with the right attitude, develop our young players, build our program the right way, then I think we can look at making the playoffs in two or three years. We want to compete, show well, get some wins in our first season, and go from there."
The Heat tip off their first ever Canada West campaign Friday night in Lethbridge against the Pronghorns. On Saturday, UBCO will visit the University of Calgary Dinosaurs.
With no CIS experience on the roster, Semeniuk will be looking to a pair of seasoned BCCAA veterans for leadership, forward Steve Morrison and guard Yassine Ghomari.
Coming up against established and more experienced Canada West programs week after week will prove to be a challenge for the Heat, but one Semeniuk expects his players to respond well to.
"I like the guys we have, we have guys who like to compete and don't like to lose," said Semeniuk. "It's about learning how to feel comfortable going into opposing team's gyms and playing the way we're capable of. If we don't show signs of being too intimidated by these teams, then that'll be a good start."
So after years of preparation and anticipation for the CIS, Semeniuk said the players and coaching staff couldn't be more excited to get started.
"The guys can't wait," he said. "The guys are going feel right way what it's like to be in a bigger league, and they'll want to show they belong."
The Heat went 3-7 during the preseason, with just two of those games being played against CIS opposition. UBCO lost twice to the Calgary Dinos, 63-59 and 93-74.
The Heat's Canada West home opener is Friday, Nov. 25 against the University of Regina.
Heather Semeniuk can't really guess how many games her UBC Okanagan women's basketball team will win in its inaugural season in the Canada West conference.
What the Heat head coach does know is that the effort will be there on a nightly basis, regardless of the opponent.
"We're going to go for everything we can get and see what happens," said Semeniuk.
"We know there will be nights when we will be outclassed by other teams, but we'll never be outworked. This is a hardworking team and it's something you can count on with these girls."
Like the UBCO men, the Heat women will make their official CIS debut on Friday night at the University of Lethbridge. A night later, it's off to the University of Calgary to play the Dinos.
The Heat came up empty in preseason losing all seven games—six vs. CIS opponents—but Semeniuk saw considerable improvement each time and every time her team took to the floor.
UBCO's best effort came in its last game against the UBC Thunderbirds, a 75-67 loss on Oct. 28.
As long as the trend continues, Semeniuk is confident UBCO will be competitive against its new Canada West opponents.
"We're not focusing too much on outcomes right away," she said. "We do play for them, but at end of the game, it's what we did within the game that matters.
"It's about making progressive steps, getting used to the level of play, the talent, the speed and playing bigger and better athletes than in the past.
"We expect to put the best on the floor with no pressure on us. It's a good position to be in."
Among the leaders on this year's squad is fifth-year guard Melissa Irish who is questionable for the start of the season due to an injury.
Experience will also come from fourth-year players Roz Huber, Madison Kaneda and Audrey Siebert-Timmer, and third years Ashley Briker and Kiersten Shulhan.
A pair of college transfers, Krystal Schouten (Qwest) and Angela White (Langara), are also expected to log quality minutes.
One rookie, guard Emily Kanester from Vernon, has cracked the starting lineup.
The Heat's home debut is Nov. 25 against Regina.