After settling for silver last season head coach Steve Shoults is focusing on the task at hand by taking one game at a time when his team opens their regular season Saturday in Red Deer.
Oct 28th, 2016…Calgary-After a story book season in 2015-2016, head coach Steve Shoults isn’t finished with that tale quite yet. A sliver Alberta Colleges Athletic Conference (ACAC) medal and a trip to Nationals gave him and his 18-3 record team a first-hand look at what it takes to finish with a gold medal around their necks and this year, won’t be settling for anything less.
“Last season was an amazing season on many levels.” says Shoults. “In the off-season we made some changes to put this team in a position to again have another successful season. Just as we have, several other teams have made improvements to their rosters and therefore I am expecting every night to be a battle on the court. As a result, we will have to be at our best each night. If the girls can do this, I am confident we will be in a great position at the end of each game.”
With the ACAC South Division starting a week later than the North, the Lightning will open their regular season this Saturday in Red Deer against the Queens.
Although the women have yet to begin their regular season, Shoults has made sure his team got plenty of pre-season action in in September. The Lightning played a whopping 12 exhibition games over the course of two months, falling only twice, to two Canadian-Interuniversity Sports (CIS) teams, University of Lethbridge and University of British Columbia-Okanogan.
St. Mary’s will return the core of their team this year, including last year’s Canadian Collegiate Athletic Association (CCAA) All-Canadian player Montana Romeril (4th year, History, Calgary). Romeril is back for her third season with the Lightning after leading the league and the nation in scoring last season, and breaking an ACAC record in most three-point conversions made in a single season.
Also returning are fifth year veterans Mary-Jean Ritchie (5th year, Education, Calgary) and Laura Belisle (5th year, General Studies, Calgary). Ritchie and Belisle will co-captain the women’s squad once again this year, and knowing this is their fifth and final crack at an ACAC gold makes this season all the more exciting for them.
“I would love a gold medal, it would be like the icing on the cake for my career, and it would go nicely with my silver one hanging in my room right now” laughs Ritchie.
“I’m just so excited for our first game, we’ve put a lot of time into our pre-season and I can’t wait to see where it takes us this season, hopefully with the final destination of Nationals in Edmonton.” adds Ritchie.
Last season the Lightning finished second overall in the ACAC South Division, unable to wrangle in the Lethbridge Kodiaks who took first place heading into the conference championships in Lloydminster last year. Things took an unexpected twist in the semi-final games with NAIT upsetting the number one nationally ranked Kodiaks for a birth in the gold medal final, while the Lightning knocked off host and first place North Division team the Lakeland Rustlers for a chance at gold and an automatic birth to CCAA Nationals in Windsor Ontario. NAIT would go on to edge the Lightning in the gold medal game 69-66, forcing St. Mary’s to settle for ACAC Silver.
NAIT capped-off their season with a CCAA bronze medal finish, and now are set to be the hosts of this year’s CCAA women’s basketball championships in March.
With no wild-card birth available to the ACAC this year, Shoults knows every win is crucial leading up to the ACAC conference championships hosted by their south division nemesis, the Lethbridge Kodiaks. With the ACAC hosting nationals this year, there’s only room for one more ACAC team to earn that trip to nationals.
“We know the championship and a returning birth to nationals goes through Lethbridge. We are focusing on one practice at a time, one quarter at a time, and one game at a time. Our first step is a visit to Red Deer, which is always a competitive venue. On paper, we are one of the strongest rosters in the ACAC, but there is a reason games are played – to steal an old cliché” says Shoults.
Shoults and his squad will open their season on the road this Saturday against the Red Deer College Queens at 6:00 p.m., with two more road games on deck before returning home for their home opening game November 11th against the Olds College Broncos. All games can be streamed live at www.acactv.ca