Technically, it was only an exhibition.
Last week's matchup between the front-running Olds College Broncos women's basketball team and the second place St. Mary's Lightning might have been a schedule-filler since OC brass withdrew its second women's team from the Alberta Colleges Athletic League schedule back in December, but the message was still crystal clear.
The team in black and gold intends on defending its league championship.
The latest piece of evidence was Thursday's 80-53 win on the Broncos' home court at the Ralph Klein Centre and while it ultimately doesn't count in ACAL standings it does show the locals are intent on widening the gap between them and their closest competition for the title.
ìWe're definitely confident and Ö when it comes to the real games and the playoffs Ö we think that we can beat any team in this league by however much we want to ñ it just depends on how much we want to work,î explained forward Tracy Frimpong following the contest in which she poured in 17 points on 8-for-11 shooting and put in yeoman's work on the boards and in the Broncos' trapping defence.
ìWe try very hard not to get outworked and we try very hard to get at least 15 loose balls a game,î she suggested. ìThey were outworking us and (coach Reg Carrick) was a little upset with us so we definitely put our heads into the game to outwork them in the second half and we did just that.î
The Broncos got off to a slow start in the game, struggling with their shooting from the field and getting out-hustled by the Lightning. After the break the team came out with a little more emotion and fire, something Carrick said they needed regardless of whether the game is an exhibition, regular season or playoff encounter.
ìIt was an exhibition game, so it doesn't count in the standings, but it counts a lot for us because they're our best competition when you look at the standings so we use them as a bit of a yardstick,î he outlined.
With the Broncos beating teams by comfortable margins on a game-by-game basis, the coaches are utilizing statistical goals to keep the players focused on the games and some of the little things they need to do in order to continue improving as a unit and individuals. Thus the introduction of the effort bonuses such as the loose ball quota.
Carrick said it was employed to great effect last year while he was associate coach at SAIT Polytechnic where the Trojans were beating teams by big scores.
ìNobody in the gym understood why with a minute to go our kid dove on a loose ball and our bench got really excited ñ it's because we met a statistical goal,î he explained.
In addition, putting in a trapping defence helps to keep all the players on the team involved because it's a system that requires working well as a unit, while also needing a certain amount of hustle to be effective.
ìWith that pressing system we're going to go 12 deep and there'll be lots of fresh bodies in there and that'll keep them motivated to play and keep getting better,î Carrick said. ìAnd they know we're in the middle of recruiting season too and they've got one eye on that because most of these girls want to come back.î
In addition to Frimpong's strong game against the Lightning, the team got its usual solid performance out of forward Jeri-lynn Chisholm and good games out of wing Tristan Warburton and point guard Kirby Travis.
Despite the win, the Broncos actually trail the Lightning in the standings. St. Mary's sits at 6-0 while Olds College is 5-0. This weekend, the Broncos are schedule to visit Millar College of the Bible in Pambrun, Sask.
The final week of the regular season, the Broncos are schedule for a home-and-home series with the Lightning that'll count in the league standings.
And while the two teams continue to dominate the ACAL scene, there is a possibility they may be expansion cousins in ACAC basketball. If the Broncos are approved for membership this spring they'd join the Lightning at the top level of college athletics in Alberta in the autumn of 2012.
St. Mary's has already been approved for men's and women's basketball and the Broncos would follow suit with a positive vote from the ACAC board in May.
ìIf we do get in, we'll come in at the same time, so it's kind of like the (NBA's former expansion cousins) Raptors and the Grizzlies,î Carrick smiled. ìThey were always measured against each other Ö and I guess that scenario we're trying to be the Raptors.î