It’s the last kick at the can for one UPEI Panthers basketballer and the first kick for another.
Fifth-year forward Kiera Rigby, veteran of the Atlantic University Sport wars, gears up for her last season with the women’s team, while Adam Ryan, new recruit this season to the AUS battleground, laces up the sneaks for the men’s team.
Both are locked and loaded, however, to open their 2017-18 season Friday at Saint Mary’s versus the Huskies. Game times are 6 p.m. for the women and 8 p.m. for the men.
Rigby, 22, graduated with a bachelor of science degree in May and the Charlottetown native returned to do research and play ball.
But her last year of eligibility comes with expectations of winning after UPEI won 11 games last season (following a six-win campaign two years ago) including its last three, and reached the post-season for the fourth straight year.
“I’m approaching this season somewhat different this year from other years. We’ve usually been an underdog team and I liked that. Now we’re expected to do well and we have to ready to perform under that pressure. But I’m excited,” said Rigby after practice Thursday. “Being in the league four complete seasons in the AUS is invaluable in terms of composure, staying calm. With age comes wisdom. Jane (McLaughlin) and I have been captains for the past two years and we can help the young ones along a little bit.”
Greg Gould, women’s head coach, has guided the five-foot, 10-inch forward over the last four seasons and has watched Rigby develop into an offensive threat. She finished with a 13.9 point per game average.
“She’s that way because she worked hard to get that way. In the second half she started to score at a level she’s capable of. She basically didn’t play in high school because of two ACL injuries. She came in and (it was hard) for her to be the player she could have been out of high school,” said Gould. “She has a lot of leadership and kids respect her. She’s a good example for all players.”
For Ryan, fresh off a P.E.I. School Athletic Association AAA men silver medal, it’s a different journey as he starts his Panthers career coming off the bench for head coach Darrell Glenn.
But Ryan, who started one game in pre-season, is prepared to contribute to a team that went 6-14 and out of the playoffs last season.
“It’s a huge jump. I want to learn as much as I can from the veteran players and get used to the speed of the game. Everybody here is bigger, longer and more athletic than I’m used to,” said the Stratford native. “I’ll play my role as best I can, not try and to do to much. I’m not there to score 30 points, just to do the little things to help the team.”
As for Glenn, who took over for Tim Kendrick this year, Ryan is improving and like many of his eight first-year players will see the floor a lot this season.
“I’m really impressed with Ryan and he’s played a lot better that I expected,” said Glenn. “He’s a good decision maker and he’s playing with confidence.”
Both Panthers and Huskies teams meet again Saturday at 6 p.m. (women) and 8 p.m. (men).