EDMONTON, Alberta — The end of the 2017-18 season marked the end of the career for Lubbock, Texas native Elle Hendershot in Alberta.
Over her career, Hendershot has been a star for the Alberta Pandas in the Canada West Conference. Last season, she averaged a double-double with 10.7 points and 12.3 rebounds per contest. Hendershot led the conference in rebounding, and she was named a Canada West Second Team All-Star for her efforts over the course of the 2017-18 campaign.
Now that Hendershot has graduated, it’s time for someone new to become the face of the program.
The Pandas are coming off a season in which they finished league play with an 11-9 record. They finished in the middle of the pack in the Canada West standings, but earned a spot into the Canada West playoffs. Alberta took on the Trinity Western Spartans in the quarter-finals, and despite having a chance to win the series, the Pandas were swept to bring their season to an end.
Looking ahead to the 2018-19 season, and the Pandas have their share of pieces back in the mix. They will be looking to separate themselves from the log jam in the middle of the Canada West standings and improve on last year’s 11-9 finish.
Alberta finished in a tie for seventh-place in the Canada West standings last season with the Lethbridge Pronghorns, finishing seven games back of the Regina Cougars (18-2). The Pandas were matched up with Trinity Western in the post-season, and the Pandas were looking to pull off the upset.
However, it wasn’t in the cards, as the Spartans swept the two-game series against Alberta to continue their post-season run while bringing an end to Alberta’s 2017-18 season.
In the opener, the Pandas got 27 points from Emma Kary, but they weren’t enough to propel Alberta to the upset win. The Spartans overcame a fourth quarter deficit to take game one, 62-53, and they carried that momentum into game two. It was another close game in their second contest, but the result was the same. Trinity Western picked up the 70-64 victory to punch their ticket to the Canada West semi-finals, sending the Pandas home in the process.
With the two losses firmly in the past and out of sight, the attention now shifts to the 2018-19 season for head coach Scott Edwards and the rest of his staff. With just a pair of seniors having graduated following last season, the Pandas have some familiar faces back in the mix who are ready to be the faces of the program and lead the team.
Leading the way is the aforementioned Emma Kary, who was Alberta’s leading scorer a season ago. Kary posted a team-best 11.8 points per game a season ago, hitting on 40.8% of her shots from the field in the process. As a sophomore, she started in all 20 games for the Pandas, making her one of four players to start each league game last season.
Kary’s numbers didn’t blow anyone away last season, but she showed signs of what’s to come for her as her collegiate career continues to unfold. She posted double-digit points on 13 occasions in league play, saving her best performance of the season for the quarter-final opener against the Spartans. She had some streaky shooting performances, like most basketball players have from time to time, while she also posted some strong shooting nights from the floor.
This season, Kary is a consistent jumper away from being a household name in the Canada West Conference.
Last season, Kary and Hendershot were the only two players for the Pandas to average double-digit points per game. Third on the list was guard Vanessa Wild, who finished the season averaging an even 7.0 points per contest. Wild saw the court in all 20 games, but was used primarily off the bench as she made just a single start. As a senior in 2018-19, Wild will be looked upon to guide the younger players while also taking on an expanded role on offense.
Fellow guard Jenna Harpe had herself a strong freshman season in 2017-18, showing promise for her future with the Pandas. In 20 games off the bench, Harpe averaged 6.7 points in just under 19 minutes of court time per night. The one knock on Harpe last season would be her shooting percentage, as she hit on just 29.2% of her attempts from the floor. As she gains experience at the collegiate level, that number will surely improve.
When you factor in the returns or Megan Twyoniuk, Lauren Earl, Makenna Ledgister, and Tess Heinricks in 2018-19, the back court rotation is the same as it was a year ago. Up front is where the Pandas will need to see people step into much larger roles, as both Hendershot and Briana Carlyon have graduated.
Look for the guards to take on more of the offense this season as the forwards for Alberta get themselves acclimated to their new roles within the team. The 2018-19 roster has yet to be finalized, so the back court rotation could have some changes to it. If not, it will be the backbone of the team this season with a high level of familiarity to it.
The middle of the pack in the Canada West standings is a tough group to separate one’s self from, as just three games separated seventh from 11th last season. That’s the difference between participating in the playoffs and watching from home.
Alberta will likely be a middle-of-the-pack team again this season as they sort out their new rotation up front. They just hope it’s one the higher seed side as opposed to stressing down the stretch over a playoff spot.
– T. Bennett