With a roster that includes 11 first or second-year players, it'll be success by committee for the Bisons women's basketball team, as they embark on the 2021-22 season following an extended layoff due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

"Everyone is going to see some time, I think some of them in certain matchups some weeks more than others, based on our regional pod. I think there's a pretty good understanding," noted eighth-year head coach Michele Sung.

"That's one of the benefits of playing a team four different times. That matchup doesn't change, whereas if you have split weekends or there's a drastic change in matchups, and you're trying to help a first-year kid navigate between playing a lot one weekend and not as much the next, that's just another mental load for them. Not having to deal with that is super helpful for them."

As Sung referenced, the Bisons will go toe-to-toe with the Winnipeg Wesmen, Saskatchewan Huskies, Brandon Bobcats and Regina Cougars twice at home and twice on the road as part of the western regional pod, a reality due to the coronavirus which has resulted in less inter-provincial travel compared to a typical season.

There are also 16 games this year as opposed to 20, leaving time for multiple bye weeks. It'll be a great test for the Herd, as the Huskies are the defending national champs, while the Wesmen's roster was bolstered by the return home of local playmakers Kyanna Giles and Keylyn Filewich.

"The pros for us is that our pod is super competitive. We have arguably two of the best teams in the country and getting to play them four times is an awesome opportunity for us. I think it also gives you that gauge. You play them in the first half, how much better can you get when you play them again in the second half," Sung says.

"For us it works out, we play them all at home and then all again on the road. It's introduced some different constraints and challenges but at the same time, with the same team, their knowledge of the opponent should be a little bit higher and we can hopefully get to a little bit more detailed scout work. The 16-game schedule as opposed to a 20, you're trying to figure out what you can do with those bye weeks. There's a little bit more time, so it's about saying let's use the time wisely for maybe not just this year but for next year and get some good development stuff done too, like skill work and that sort of stuff."

Defence for 90 feet, for 40 minutes

This year, Sung and her engaged coaching staff that includes Adam Khan, Kyla Shore, Michelle Edwards and Sonia Radi-Dolyniuk have made key adjustments to their offensive and defensive game plans. On the defensive end, the goal is to get the team to understand how to play defence for 90 feet for 40 minutes, whether that's full pressure or not. It's about knowing the matchup and what goes into that mentality on a week-to-week basis.

"The idea is can we make the team we're playing against play for the full length of the basketball court, versus allowing them to get set in the half court and then hopefully our action defence is good," says Sung. "That's kind of the over-arching idea and what it looks like for lineups can change, based on either matchups or injuries or fitness."

Key additions such as 5'11" forward Mikayla Simon-Tucker (2020 commit) and 5'9" forward Samantha Onyebunchi (2021 commit) add size and versatility to the team's roster on both ends of the court. Simon-Tucker played all five positions for Vaughan, Ontario's Father John Redmond High School and has a defensive mentality, while Onyebuchi is a former All-Manitoba team member out of Collรจge Pierre-Elliott Trudeau and was a top priority for Sung on the recruitment trail. The latter started one game during the preseason, but, like a few others, is dealing with an injury that is unfortunately a reality given the long layoff.

"Sam and Mikayla in terms of the defensive piece just give us more depth. We have a three or four-year plan just to get a better base of defensive mindset as a team. That's been really good. I think almost all of them are still trying to find their stride in that, and our expectations have drastically increased with a defensive mindset," noted Sung.

"It takes a little bit of failure to buy in. There's been some really challenging moments and there's been some really awesome moments, where I've said see, you're more than capable of doing that. That's not just for Mikayla, that's for everybody."

Becoming less scoutable on O a key message

Offensively, the goal is for the team to become less scoutable. To accomplish this, Sung is implementing small pieces of instinctual actions, instead of running motion-type offences all of the time.

"I've always kind of had a bit of resistance to motion-type offences, because it takes so much reliance on concepts versus set actions," she says.

"There's no set position where player x is always doing this action and now that's the only thing we've gotten scores on. It's really hard, because on both sides of the ball, both of those concepts are super easy to bail out of when you don't have wins. We're trying really hard to stick to the foundation of those two pieces for the first half, and then the second half, what are some tweaks we can put in or some wrinkles that allow us to be more successful with the matchups that we already know?"

Leading the way offensively will be second-year guard Lauren Bartlett, who is "pretty much the team's only true point guard." She was selected to the Canada West All-Rookie Team in 2019-20 after averaging 10.2 points per game while finishing sixth in the conference in assists with 71, and ninth in steals, with 40. Her role will be even more important due to three-time conference all-star Taylor Randall — the team's only fifth-year — currently dealing with an injury.

With Randall currently out, 5'5" fourth-year guard Deidre Bartlett, a sharp-shooter who made 21 treys in 2019-29, has stepped up. Additionally, 6'0" second-year forward Lauryn Manaigre has also made huge strides, which is critical due to fellow second-year forward Autumn Agar, who scored a combined 36 points in her last six games two years ago, also not playing at the moment. When the pair eventually return to the lineup, it'll make the Herd's depth even stronger, along with 5'10" sophomore forward Emily Johnson and 5'8" guards Lana Shypit and Kendall Parker, just to name a few.

"The one person who's surprised us the most in the preseason has been Diedre. She's just a gamer. She knows how to compete, she knows time and score situations, she knows when we're into weird foul situations and how to manipulate those to not be a total decrease in either energy or quality of play. She's been a pretty good surprise," says Sung.

[Manaigre] has been a nice surprise, and for her, she's just slowly worked on her game and is a multi-sport athlete," added the head coach. "Her IQ and pick-up of concepts is really high, so that's been nice."

International flair

The Herd will have plenty of international flair on the roster this season, as along with Parker, an Australia native, they brought in 6'2" forward Lovisa Fjellner from Stockholm, Sweden. She's a veteran of 44 games at the youth national team level and adds an immediate two-way presence to the roster.

At the national team level, she was expected to set screens, be a really good passer from the high post, be a good rebounder and defend, whereas on her club team she was more of a guard. There's going to be some learning on the fly, but the potential for the versatile athlete is through the roof.

"Having gotten some film when she was able to play a little bit last year at her high school, just being able to have film and say okay, these are things that she already does well, let's not over-coach her in those was helpful," says Sung.

"Then there's things that she has never heard of before. She has never really been asked to ball-handle in the full court, so we knew we were going to have to spend some extra time and always have a coach follow-up. She has a pretty good rapport with all the coaches. We knew it was going to take time to figure out her personality.

She's going to be good for us, it's just going to take some time to think the game in English. Her English is very good, but if you think about it, your processing is always in your primary language, so when you're hearing it in the secondary, it's that extra step. It's been an awesome tool for me to make sure my language is a little bit clearer and to keep teaching simple."

Source: https://gobisons.ca/news/2021/11/4/womens-basketball-season-preview-bisons-womens-basketball-preaching-defence-variety-in-2021-22.aspx

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