NAIT Ooks Looking to Regain ACAC Title in 2018-19

After a transition year in 2017-18, the NAIT Ooks will look to regain the ACAC title in 2018-19. (Source: NAIT Ooks) (Header: NAIT Ooks)

EDMONTON, Alberta — Year in and year out, the race for the ACAC title is anyone’s for the taking, as the regular season standings get thrown out the window and don’t mean a thing.

Since the 2009-10 season, seven different schools have won the ACAC Women’s Basketball Championship, and no school has gone back-to-back. The MacEwan Griffins and Lethbridge College Kodiaks have two titles over the nine-year span, but neither won them in consecutive seasons.

Back in 2015-16, the NAIT Ooks were the ones that were cutting down the nets as provincial champions. The Ooks would go on to the CCAA Women’s Basketball Championships in Windsor and they would continue their strong post-season play and contend with the top teams in the country from coast to coast.

As the ACAC champions, NAIT was awarded the third seed in the event. The Ooks would go 3-1 over their four games at the event, and they brought home a bronze medal after a nail-biting win over top-seeded Cegep Sainte-Foy, 63-62. NAIT also picked up wins over the VIU Mariners and Nomades de Montmorency, while falling to the Holland Hurricanes who would end up with the silver medal.

Then, in 2016-17, NAIT served as the hosts for the 2017 CCAA Women’s Basketball Championships. The Ooks finished fourth that season, falling to the Humber Hawks in the bronze medal game, 72-48.

Now, after missing out on both an ACAC title and a spot in the CCAA National Championships in 2017-18, the Ooks have their sights set on recreating the magic from two seasons ago. After a fourth-place finish last season, NAIT will look to climb in the standings of the ever-competitive ACAC North Division.

In 2017-18, the Ooks finished the regular season with a record of 15-9 against North Division opponents. They finished with 30 points, good for fourth place in the division, and they were two points out of the two-way tie for second place.

Down the stretch, NAIT started to find their stride and they built some positive momentum ahead of the post-season. The Ooks ended the season with five straight wins, a stretch that included two wins against both the GPRC Wolves and University of Alberta-Augustana Vikings.

As the fourth seed from the North Division, the Ooks had a tough road ahead of them in the post-season. But, they were looking to carry their momentum into the playoffs and continue their winning ways.

They drew the top seed from the South Division in their ACAC Championships opener, and it was their rival, the SAIT Trojans. The Trojans came away with the 68-65 victory, sending the Ooks to the consolation side of the bracket. A win over the CUE Thunder kept NAIT’s season alive for one more day. Their season came to an end on a losing note, dropping the fifth/sixth place game to the Olds College Broncos, 78-54.

In 2018-19, the Ooks will be looking to bounce back and reach the levels of success that they enjoyed just two seasons prior.

This season, NAIT will be without four of its top five scorers from a season ago. Sydney Hurlburt finished second on the team in scoring last season, and she is the only player from the top five who is back in 2018-19. Leading scorer Kika Greenlee (16.6 ppg) is gone, along with three other regulars from the lineup.

Hurlburt, a 5’10” guard from St. Albert, Alberta, will be entering her fourth year of eligibility in 2018-19. Last season, Hurlburt was one of two players to average double-digit points per game for the Ooks, finishing the year with an average of 10.0 points per contest. She opened the season with four straight double-digit scoring efforts, and reached double figures in six of her first eight games overall.

On November 4th against GPRC, Hurlburt went for 35 points on 13-of-25 shooting from the floor to guide NAIT to the 82-45 victory. Over the course of 2017-18, Hurlburt showed that she can be the leading option on offense for the Ooks, and that will likely be the case this season with the amount of production that NAIT lost from last year’s team.

After Hurlburt, the next leading scorer back in 2018-19 is Leah Vandenboogaard. The fifth-year guard from Edmonton is coming off a season in which she posted 6.5 points per game over 24 regular season appearances, 20 of which were starts. Vandenboogaard shot 31.6% from three-point range, and 81.3% from the free throw line.

As the lone fifth-year player on this year’s roster, Vandenboogaard will be looked upon for veteran leadership as well as expanded production on both ends of the court.

NAIT has six first-year players on their roster this season and five players who will be entering their second years of eligibility. The Ooks will be a younger team this season, which may lead to some question marks early in the season as they look to work out their rotation and to get their players acclimated to the college game. Coaches and players alike will be looking to establish roles for the team moving forwards.

The Ooks know what it takes to win and advance to the national championships, so you can bet that head coach Todd Warnick and his staff will have this year’s team ready to go ahead of their season opener on October 19th against the Lakeland College Rustlers. How quickly they can adjust with several younger players will determine how far this year’s NAIT team progresses come the post-season.

– T. Bennett

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