By Noah Miller
After no tournament last season, the University of Calgary’s Battle of the Border returns to the Jack Simpson gym earlier than ever.
The tournament, which pits U of C and neighbouring universities against comparable teams from across the border, runs August 11-15, a full month before regular fall classes begin.
This year, the tournament brings up the Northern Arizona Lumberjacks of the NCAA’s Big Sky Conference to tip-off against the Dinos twice, the Univeristy of Lethbridge pronghorns twice and against Concordia for a single matchup.
“Its the first time we’ve done it this early,” said Dinos men’s basketball head coach Dan Vanhooren, who noted that the last battle of the border two years ago occurred over the September long weekend. “We practice only four times, we’re playing and give the guys a couple weeks off after this, because otherwise I think the season is too long.”
The Lumberjacks from Flagstaff, Arizona are the third team in their conference to visit the U of C for Battle of the Border since the tournament’s inception in 2006. The Lumberjacks posted a 14-14 overall record last season and were .500 in both in- and out-of-conference play. The Lumberjacks will boast four returning starters for the 2010-11 season and the tournament against a young Dinos team.
“This team we’re playing is going to be formidable,” said Vanhooren. “It’s not like we are going to be in a weak heat.”
The tournament will be the first opportunity for Dinos fans to get a good look at Vanhooren’s recruiting class consisting of eight new players including Phil Labongo and Matt Letkeman. Four veterans will be missing from the lineup due to graduation.
“It gives us a real good chance to get a good look at our guys early, a couple weeks of time to plan for our pre-season based on what we saw,” said Vanhooren. “It’s a nice sneak peek at what we have. It will help prepare us for our season much, much better.”
Vanhooren said he was looking for “a competitive experience” to come out of this weekend.
Despite the absence of veteran players from the lineup, Vanhooren said he doesn’t feel the young players must fill their shoes, but should “play their own way and be who they are.”
“Obviously losing Ross [Bekkering] and Robbi [Sihota] up front and Jamie [McLeod] in the backcourt, those are some significant players for us who had fabulous careers and we love them to death for that and we’re looking forward to watching them play pro,” said Vanhooren. “These guys are going to have to create their own identity. This tournament will hopefully help them do that.”