By: Holly MacKenzie

EDMONTON, AB (November 14, 2019) - After three days of practice in Edmonton, the Senior Women’s National Team will hit the floor for their first game of a three-game group phase in the FIBA Women’s Olympic Pre-Qualifying Tournament tonight at 7:30 P.M. local time (9:30 P.M. ET). 

Getting to play on home soil, and in a city the team considers its home base, is an exciting opportunity for the women’s team, who enter the tournament ranked a program-best 4th in the world.

“We’re here [in Edmonton] every single year,” head coach Lisa Thomaidis said. “We’re here for multiple weeks at a time, sometimes multiple phases, so yeah, we’re really happy to be back.”

Hoping to make the most of having just three full practices leading into competition is that much of the roster has played together for years. Veteran Kia Nurse had a 26-hour travel day to make it to Edmonton after traveling from Australia where she’s in her second season playing for the WNBL defending champion University of Canberra Capitals. Getting to return to a place of familiarity helps to make the journey a bit easier.

“We’re very fortunate to come back every year and know where we’re going to be,” Nurse said. “Where we’re practicing, where we’re staying, and that means a lot to us, to have that comfort level and be able to know that what you need when you need it is going to be taken care of here. We’re very, very fortunate for Canada Basketball and everything they do to make sure that even on the longest of travel days we have everything we need when we need it.”

With the team coming into the weekend holding its best-ever ranking, Thomaidis is proud of the accomplishment, but remains focused on the task at hand. “We’ve been climbing for the last couple of years, so to be No. 4, a program high, certainly there’s a level of pride around that, but we have pretty lofty goals heading towards Tokyo,” she said. “Certainly first and foremost we need to qualify. We need to perform well this weekend and build upon this performance, and hopefully move on to February and thereafter.”

In addition to roster familiarity and experience, the majority of this group was together in Puerto Rico in September for the FIBA Women's AmeriCup 2019. Canada finished the event second overall, posting a 5-1 record. “We were just together in Puerto Rico and played these same three opponents down there so we know what to expect,” Thomaidis said. “They’re going to have similar rosters, ours is going to be a lit bit different than what we had in Puerto Rico due to some injuries and availability, but certainly it’s nice to know what we’re going to be facing.”

After facing Cuba in their first game of the Pre-Qualifying tournament on Thursday, Canada will take on Puerto Rico on Saturday (5 P.M. local, 7 P.M. ET), and Dominican Republic on Sunday (4 P.M. local, 6 P.M. ET) in the group phase of the tournament. All games will be available via livestream on CBC and FIBA YouTube.

With players returning to Canada from all over, including Australia, France, Spain, Germany and Russia, Thomaidis knows that it is a luxury to have that level of commitment from the professional athletes on the roster. 

While Nurse shrugs off the inconvenience of travel by saying her love of basketball and representing her country is what brings her back, Thomaidis acknowledged the pride the program has in the support it receives from its players.

“When duty calls, they answer the call,” Thomaidis said.  “They do have a tremendous amount of pride and passion putting Canada across their chest. It’s really impressive. It’s fun getting them back all together. Sometimes due to injury or availability we don't have the full contingent of our athletes. We do this time around and it’s really fun. Any time we can get everyone together I think it just builds chemistry and cohesion and really helps put an even better product on the floor each time.”

As for what’s at stake in the tournament ahead, Thomaidis didn’t dance around the team’s goals heading into Thursday’s tip-off.

“It’s all or nothing,” she said. “We want to win every game. We want to be performing at our highest level possible because will be the last time that we’re together before February. It’s really important for us to stake a claim and really continue to send messages when we play internationally against these teams and other countries that Canada is here and to be taken seriously.”