By: Orrin Farries

The 2020-2021 ACAC season having been postponed has left a very different feeling in the air of the Ook’s gym.

The usual smell of hard work and kicked up court dust has been replaced with the heady aroma of disinfectant. The almost electric buzz of energy that is felt upon stepping into the echo chamber of squeaking sneakers and enamored shouting-out of play calls, is replaced with a churlish silence.

Nobody tell women’s basketball head coach, Todd Warnick.

Warnick is entering his 10th year as the head coach of the women’s basketball program at NAIT.

“[We’re] looking at essentially using this time to really focus on fitness,” said Warnick when addressing the adjustments that have been made to his year as a coach.

“The upside of us not having a season til January, potentially, is that we have time.”

Time is indeed a luxury that the Ooks have at their disposal, with the first game of their season slated to be played in January, if the pandemic allows.

“Often we are under such pressure to put everything in as a team at a high level very early on [in the year],” said Warnick.

“This gives us the ability to really focus on the process, get players re-introduced to what our culture is, but also build a new culture going forward that is reflective of those student athletes in the process.”

Following a 2019-2020 ACAC season that saw the lady Ooks finish with a 15-9 record, and bow out after their first two games at the ACAC provincial championships hosted in Medicine Hat, the Ooks will be looking to revitalize in this time off.

“When we’re not on the court, [we’re] utilizing the technology to take a deep dive into basketball education beyond the scope of just showing up to the gym to train,” said Warnick of his team’s new circumstances.

The Ooks women’s team has been meeting virtually through Microsoft Teams, technology that many NAIT students will become very familiar with the coming weeks, and have begun the process of connecting as teammates under the tutelage of coach Warnick.

With many of NAIT’s courses shifting to digital platforms for satellite learning, the program has lost a handful of committed players, another challenge that has Coach Warnick looking to improvise and adapt.

“It’s challenging,” said Warnick. “We’ve had some athletes make the difficult decision to walk away, which we of course respect and support them in those decisions.”

With the uncertainty of the season looming large overhead, Coach Warnick has put into perspective what he anticipates as the victories for the year ahead.

“Allowing this team to really find it’s identity I think will be the measurement of success and trusting the process through to the end,” said Warnick.

“There are so many moving targets right now. I think it’s an unrealistic expectation at this point to say we will hang a banner. Nobody really knows what [our season] going to look like in 2 to 3 months.”

With trademark poise, Warnick looks to make this a year of growth for his women’s basketball program, and to capitalize on the gift of time that his team has been given.

“If we can create a situation this year where the kids participating have gotten better, more invested, and have taken ownership of the program, that, to me, would be the true measure of success for this year.”