Women’s basketball exceeds expectations in the new year

Everyone loves an underdog story, and the women's basketball team is creating one for UBC.

Last season’s team started a rebuild. They hired a new head coach, Erin McAleenan, and had nine rookies on the team. With the team’s overall inexperience, they were expected to place ninth in the Canada West (CW) standings. They ended up 12th, with a 6–12 record. The T-Birds managed to snag a playoff spot but were eliminated early in the playoff tournament.

This season looked similar at the start but has high hopes for a different ending. The Thunderbirds stayed ranked at ninth in the preseason coaches poll, and McAleenan is in her second season as head coach. Despite three fewer rookies this year, the team is still very young. They only have three players with at least three years of U Sports experience under their belt.

However, the team has surpassed expectations thus far. After a rough exhibition start, the team has seemed to gel well. The ‘Birds are 9–3 and currently sit tied for third in the CW standings, and all of their losses have been close games with a maximum of a ten-point difference.

They have great chemistry and spread their points across the team. In most games, almost every single player gets at least two points and multiple players are able to hit double digits. In their dominant weekend sweep of the Thompson Rivers Wolfpack, seven different players captured ten plus points over two games. Second-year guard Olivia Weekes led with 34 points.

“I feel like all five players on the floor are consistent threats which makes it hard [for other teams] to defend,” said McAleenan in an interview with UBC Athletics on November 12, 2022.

Meanwhile, the Thunderbirds’ defence is incredible. Their turnover margin is the highest in the CW division and they play a tight man-to-man game. The team also leads in steals, with rookie Cerys Merton leading the team and division. She clocked in six steals in Saturday’s 83–26 win against the WolfPack.

The T-Birds do the majority of their scoring within the three point line, particularly in the key. Their aggressiveness to the net often results in free throw attempts. However, they struggle at the line. The team is third-last in the CW division, at 63.3 per cent for free throws. Over the weekend, they were at 42.9 and 57.1 per cent on Friday and Saturday, respectively. They are unable to capitalize on all the penalties they are brilliant at drawing.

The youth of this team is also seen in their lack of endurance for the full four quarters. The T-Birds come out strong in the first and third quarters (after the breaks) but tend to score less in their weaker fourth quarters.

The biggest change lately is due to rookie Taelor Coxford. She was expected to be a breakout for the team and has seemed to find her groove in the new year. At 6’1”, she is a force to be reckoned with, hitting double digits in both points and minutes against the Wolfpack.

With breakout performances like Coxford’s and Weekes’, the second half of this season looks bright for the ‘Birds — bright enough for, against all expectations, a CW podium finish.

Before that, they’ll have to face four more teams, starting with the first-placed University of Regina Cougars on Friday, January 20 at 5 p.m. at War Memorial Gym in the return of the annual Courtside Basketball Festival.