His last coaching gig was 20 years ago and the game has certainly changed since then, but to Terry Finnigan, basketball is basketball.
Finnigan was an assistant with the Lindsay Thurber Raiders senior boys in 1989 and is just nicely into his first season as head coach of the Notre Dame Cougars senior girls, who on Tuesday opened their Central Alberta High School Basketball League campaign with a convincing 53-27 conquest of the visiting Rocky Mountain House Rebels.
As a player Finnigan starred with the Raiders before earning college All-Canadian honours while playing under head coach Wayne Lalor at Red Deer College.
“It’s a different game now. The three-point line wasn’t as dominant or as big a factor when I played. The players are bigger and faster now and everyone pushes the ball up the floor,” he noted.
As for his ability to pass on his knowledge of the game as a coach . . .
“I’ve participated in enough practices and watched other people run drills,” said Finnigan. “I was also part of Team Alberta as a high school player and was involved with Basketball Alberta, so I’ve had plenty of sources to draw from.”
Finnigan takes over from former Cougars head coach Erika Pottage, who is on maternity leave.
“They were looking for someone to help out here and I’d thought I’d be interested in the position,” he said.
“There’s no sense in just sitting back and watching from the sidelines. It’s an opportunity to give something back.”
Finnigan, who is assisted by Phil Penner, inherits a team with a comfortable mix of experience and youth.
The six returnees are forwards Makenzie Quinn, Taylor Penner and Chelsea Fraser, as well as guard Danielle Harder, forward/post Jenna Ronnie and post Kirsten Khatib. The remainder of the team consists of forwards Kaitlyn Meador, Maddie Quinn and Stacy Romerman, and guards Haley Anderson, Megan LaRocque and Kathrina Uytina.
“Actually, with the system we play the girls rotate through all of the positions, so they get a taste of everything,” said Finnigan.
“If their back is to the basketball sometimes they have to play post as opposed to forward, and sometimes they have to bring the ball up the floor.
“They’re having to adjust to the style that I’m implementing, but it’s a nice mix for them, a bit of a variety. It’s a little more open, a little more up-tempo.”
Finnigan, who had 35 girls attend tryouts this year, is hoping to get his team to the provincial championship tournament next spring.
“That’s one of the team goals we’ve set. We’d like to go to provincials and we want to be competitive with Thurber and Hunting Hills,” said the coach, who is confident that the likes of Makenzie Quinn, Harder, Ronnie and Khatib can play post-secondary basketball next year.
“I’d like to help them prepare for the next level, help them achieve some skills they’ll need for college or university,” he added.
“The game is quicker at the post-secondary level and they have to adjust to that. I want to get them used to running a bit more and pushing the ball up the floor.”
For the most part, Finnigan was pleased with the Cougars’ performance on Tuesday.
“For it being our first game of the season, we did some really good things,” he said. “We worked on a brand new offence and also on some pressure. The big thing is that the girls get to know each other. They have to do that before we can be successful on the floor.”
Fraser and Makenzie Quinn scored eight points apiece for Notre Dame. Lexi Anderson led the Rebels with 10 points.
• In the later senior boys contest, Kyle Devine netted 14 points and Connor McLaughlin hooped 12 as the Cougars ripped the Rebels 91-25.
The Notre Dame Cougar Classic senior girls/boys tournament runs Friday and Saturday.