With any university sports team, there’s bound to be frequent turnover.
Just as fast as hotshot new rookies join a squad, old grizzled veterans are on their way out the door, graduating and leaving gaping holes at starting positions everywhere.
That’s the case for Prince Rupert’s own Sarah Robin’s University of Northern British Columbia’s (UNBC) Timberwolves women’s basketball team, where four of their starting five players have moved on.
Robin has been named captain in this, her fifth and final year of eligibility with UNBC.
“It’s an honour,” said Robin last week, who was in the midst of wrapping up the Timberwolves’ exhibition schedule.
“I’m really a strong believer in leading by example. I’ve learned that hard work really pays off so it doesn’t matter if we’re the most skilled team out there but if we work really hard, we’re going to come out proud no matter what [the outcome of the score].”
That philosophy will be leaned on often this season as it’s not expected for the rookies and sophomores to make an immediate impact in the Canadian Interuniversity Sport (CIS) landscape as one of the league’s younger teams.
“It’s definitely going to be a building year I think. We’re going to be building on our rookies and second-years and just develop them,” said Robin.
The growing pains have already started to show, as the team dropped four of six pre-season contests these past few weeks – two to Trinity Western University (TWU), one to MacEwan University and one to the University of Alberta, though the two losses to TWU came by close scores of 66-59 and 79-73. They won against Grande Prairie Regional College and Red Deer College.
The Timberwolves, who achieved third-place provincially in their old division, the Pacific Western Athletic Association (PacWest) in 2011 and won the championship in 2012 with a 62-53 win over the University of Vancouver Island Mariners, are also undergoing a strategic revamp, on both ends of the court.
“We’re learning a brand new offence and defence and a lot of the girls coming out of high school don’t really know the zone defence yet and stuff like that, so it seems like every game, we’re improving. We’re not where we want to be yet but we still have one more week of pre-season games,” said Robin.
To speed that process along, the team’s trip out to Alberta helped the bonding and chemistry between the women, who are all new to each other. It’s a classic pre-season tactic to get a team on the same page.
“We all stay in a hotel with each other and it’s really good to get to know each other and each other’s habits,” she said.
Robin, who won CIS academic All-Canadian honours in 2012-13, is a leader through hard work and her offensive prowess.
As a small forward, Robin most recently shot 83.3 per cent, scored 17 points and had five rebounds in the Timberwolves’ 66-59 loss to TWU and gathered 14 points and three rebounds in UNBC’s 79-73 loss.
Last year, Robin finished in the CIS Canada West divison’s top-15 in field goal percentage (.445) and fourth on the team in points per game (9.4) on the Timberwolves who went 6-16 during the year.
“It’s been awesome,” said Robin of her time in Prince George with the Timberwolves.
“Probably my best year was in my second year when we won provincials for the PacWest league but definitely moving up to CIS has been a really awesome experience. It let me know that hard work gets you places and last year was definitely good. I got to play with some fifth-years,” she said.
“It’s a lot faster and more aggressive and there are just stronger girls in this league so we now have a better expectation of what it takes to win,” said Robin of the CIS.
This year, UNBC’s formidable competition includes the University of the Fraser Valley, who were ranked fifth in Canada with a 17-5 record at the end of last season and won bronze at the 2014 CIS championships last year.
But even with their steep learning curve, the team has come to rely on Robin for both on-court and off-court advice.
“Oh yeah, everybody has questions like ‘Can we beat this team’ and I say ‘Yeah, we can beat any team!’ and I’m a tutor for the team so if anybody has any questions about school and stuff too, I tend to help with that,” said the captain.
The biology major will finish her fifth year at UNBC, and is currently looking at optometry school options in Canada at the University of Waterloo, and the U.S at the Southern College of Optometry.
In the meantime, she’ll be leading her new group of Timberwolves for the 2014-15 season.
“Just instilling in them [the message that] that nothing’s going to be easy [will be crucial for this year],” said Robin.
“Working hard in practices will result in working hard in games.”