There is only one spot at nationals for a women’s basketball team from the Alberta Colleges Athletic Conference, and through the first half of the season, the Lakeland Rustlers made a claim for that spot. An 11-1 record and 786 points scored for, puts Lakeland on top in the North Division, as the Rustlers had a perfect season going until the final weekend of the fall semester.
With a large contingent of new faces, the near perfect record has been a surprise to some, but heading into the winter semester, the expectations for the women’s team is extremely high. It’s nationals or bust for arguably one of the best teams Lakeland has ever produced on the hard court.
“This is the most stressful year I have had and this is the best team I have had,” said Rustlers head coach Chris King. “I think I just expect really great things for this team and really haven’t clicked. We show those sparks of amazing offence and lockdown defence, and as a coach, you expect it all the time.”
In the North Division, Lakeland has three of the top scorers, as veteran Cameo McKerlie sits third in the division with 12.5 points per game, while new Rustler Amber Irvine has the sixth position locked with 11.5 points per game. Veteran Briana Carlyon rounds out the Rustlers in the top 10, coming in at seventh with 10.1 points per game. Fifth-year Rustler Mariah Van’t Hof sits in 13th spot.
Lakeland sits behind only Lethbridge (12-0) and Olds College (9-3) in points scored in the ACAC, and both those schools come out of the South Division.
On defence, their 596 points allowed is the second lowest in the division, behind only NAIT.
But while the Rustlers are scoring lots and allowing little, that’s only on the scoresheet. The play on the court through the first half of the season wasn’t at the level King wanted to see this team at. Especially considering this is a team capable of playing at a national level. Turnovers, missed shots and easy lay-ins didn’t fall, and it cost the Rustlers their perfect season. It was at the midway point of the season, and it was nowhere near where Lakeland should have been playing at that point, 12 games in.
Now with 12 games only remaining before a playoff run to nationals, the Rustlers are running out of time to figure it out.
“We’re going to have our ups and downs, but for us to go to nationals, it has to be fixed,” said King. “We are running out of games here. We got 12 games left, so it has got to come some time.”
King, however, did regress, in that the team was, as close to perfect as they can be, and despite his high expectations for the Rustlers, the team is still 11-1 and on top of the standings at the mid-season mark.
“If we can take care of business in the second semester we can get a favourable matchup for playoffs and that is all we can ask for,” said King. “Our chemistry needs to come together on the floor and our communication is very weak. If we can solve those two things, I think we will have a legit shot at going to nationals.”
Lakeland begins the second semester with a home-and-away against Concordia, with the home game on Jan. 16 at 6 p.m.
Nationals will be held in Nanaimo, B.C. at Vancouver Island University March 18-21.