Dribblers must silence thunder
By Ian Ross
With a reputation for blowing out opponents by 30 to 40 points in what some have deemed a weak division, the Western women's basketball team flies to Thunder Bay this weekend for a pair of games against the toughest competition the Mustangs will face in their regular season.
The Lakehead Nor'Westers, holding a 9-1 record, are currently second in the Ontario West division behind Western and have jumped in and out of the national rankings all season.
"Personnel-wise we match-up overall," Mustang co-captain Nadia Pezzolo said. "They are bigger than us, but we're much quicker."
Western head coach Bob Delaney is confident his team is prepared for the tougher competition, commenting that the team has adjusted their style of play to compensate for Lakehead's strong post game and excellent guards.
While Nor'Wester Alicia Gunn leads the Ontario West division in scoring with 18.5 points per game, both Delaney and Lakehead head coach Stu Julius point to Lakehead's Katya Mason as the most important player that will take the court this weekend.
Mason, a fifth-year guard and a three-time conference all-star, has tremendous basketball sense and is third in both scoring and three-point shooting percentage this season.
"She's our main outside threat," Julius said. "For us to have a chance to beat Western, she has to score for us to win."
Not only will the Mustangs need to focus on Gunn and Mason, but the travel and atmosphere that the team must deal with will add another factor into the equation.
Boarding a bus early this morning, the team will fly out of Pearson International Airport in Toronto and finally arrive in Thunder Bay sometime in the afternoon. This will not leave the team much time to collect themselves before the evening game.
"We're going to have to get off the plane and get our legs ready to go in a hurry," Pezzolo said. "The team's not used to it, but teams in Western Canada do it all the time."
Once at the game, Western will then need to prepare for the large Lakehead crowds which consistently pack the Thunderdome.
"They have the advantage when they play at home. Their robust fans pack the place. Basketball is the in thing up there and they get over 2,000 fans," Delaney said, adding that he doesn't think the rough crowds will adversely affect the Mustangs.
Pezzolo, on the other hand, admitted she has been impressed with the large crowds in past visits to Lakehead. She recalled times when the partisan fans have been so energized that the Mustangs needed to huddle closely during their timeouts just to hear each other.
"They are extra mean when Western comes to town. Everyone wants to beat us," Pezzolo said. "That is the atmosphere we live to play in. I think the girls who played at [last year's national championships] will be fully prepared for it."
With only a handful of fans from Western making their way north, the Mustangs will face a hostile crowd and competitor at the Thunderdome tonight at 8:30 p.m. and tomorrow evening at 6:30 p.m..
©Photo by Tom Baumgartner/Gazette