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Memorial University basketball: Lady Hawks take test flight tonight

The Memorial Sea-Hawks will be relying on the skills of guard Sydney Stewart (14), who led the team in scoring last season and was an AUS women’s basketball first-team all-star. The Sea-Hawks play their first exhibition game tonight at the old MUN gym as they take on the Ryerson Rams in the teams’ opening game of the Marie’s Mini Mart Fall Classic. The Alberta Pandas and Winnipeg Wesmen are also competing in the tourney, which continues Friday and Saturday at the Memorial Field House.
The Memorial Sea-Hawks will be relying on the skills of guard Sydney Stewart (14), who led the team in scoring last season and was an AUS women’s basketball first-team all-star. The Sea-Hawks play their first exhibition game tonight at the old MUN gym as they take on the Ryerson Rams in the teams’ opening game of the Marie’s Mini Mart Fall Classic. The Alberta Pandas and Winnipeg Wesmen are also competing in the tourney, which continues Friday and Saturday at the Memorial Field House.

The Memorial University women’s basketball team didn’t have a whole lot of off-season turnover. Nevertheless, there are a couple of big vacancies to be filled on the roster of the Sea-Hawks, who play their first pre-season game of the 2017-18 campaign tonight in St. John’s.

Memorial is hosting the second annual Marie’s Mini Mart Fall Classic exhibition tournament, which will also involve the Ryerson Rams of Toronto, Winnipeg Wesmen and Alberta Pandas.

The tourney opens with the Wesmen facing the Rams at 6 p.m. at the old MUN gym, while the Lady Hawks will tangle with the Pandas at 8 p.m. at the same facility.

Nine players who saw action with Memorial last season are back with head coach Mark English’s squad this fall, including fourth-year forward Sydney Stewart, a first team Atlantic University Sport (AUS) all-star in 2016-17.  A fourth-year player, Stewart led the Sea-Hawks in points (15.6), assists (3.0) and steals (2.5) per game, and finished third overall in scoring in the conference.

Only four players are not returning, but that group includes guard Sydney Ezekiel, who is not using her fifth year of eligibility this season,  and post Grace Diaz-Brito, starters who finished as Memorial second and third-leading scorers in 2016-17. What’s more, Diaz-Brito, who has returned to her native Spain, was the team’s top rebounder, averaging nearly eight per contests.

That would seem to put some pressure on the likes of Brooklyn Wright, the 6-2 fourth-year forward who is just one of two players on the roster — 6-1 rookie Cameron Longley is the other — listed as being taller than 5-10. However, in a team release, Stewart suggested the Sea-Hawks’ overall quickness will prove to their calling card.

“What we lack in size, we more than make up for with how aggressive and fast-paced we are,” she said.

Wright and point guard Jane Baird, a third-year Gonzaga High School product, join Stewart as returning starters. Mona Frey, Ashley Collins, Rosie Stanoev, Kelsey Moore, Lindsay Taylor and Haille Nickerson are also back from 2016-17.

Longley, who is from Nova Scotia, and guard Breena Power out of St. Kevin’s High in Goulds, a red-shirt last season, are listed as rookies. But there are a couple of second-year players who did not play any games last season and who could be important contributors in 2017-18.

Australian point guard Sammi Deakin-Sharpe had to red-shirt with MUN last year after transferring from Nicholls State University, an NCAA Division 1 school. And forward Adreanne Ennis, a selection to the AUS rookie all-star team in 2015-16, missed all of last season because of shoulder injury. Ennis is still not ready to start this season, but English said “We’re working on getting her (back in action).”  

The exhibition tourney continues on Friday (6 p.m. and 8 p.m.) and Saturday (4 p.m. and 6 p.m.) moving to the Field House, with the Sea-Hawks playing the late game in both instances.

Memorial is prepared for a test whatever the opponent and whatever the day. Winnipeg (No. 6) and Alberta (No. 9) both finished the 2016-17 season ranked in the USports Canadian top 10, finishing 1-2 in the Canada West conference. Ryerson was an OUA playoff team after going 13-6.

The Sea-Hawks, who were fourth in the AUS with an 11-9 record, lost in the quarter-finals to the eventual champion Cape Breton Capers by just two points.

That was then and this now. English is anxious to see how off-season preparation translates on the court.

“We have put in a solid month and half of work and the team is eager to get on the court and put it all together,” he said. “We are hoping to get a sense of where we are and what we need to work on after this weekend. The pre-season is a time to try different things and different line-ups to see what works well.”

 

sports@thetelegram.com

 

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