A year ago, the Western Mustangs ringette team had the luxuries of a cohesive veteran group and a winning record. This season, though, has been a very different challenge.
With around half of their players graduating at the end of last season, the Mustangs have had to adapt to a heavy injection of youth and inexperience. Their 2017–18 roster features six first-year players, and just five in fourth or fifth year.
As a result, things have been tough for Western in terms of performance. They've got a 4–22–1 record across all their competitions right now, and they don't yet have a win in Western Region league play.
The Mustangs came second in the University Challenge Cup last year, losing to the University of Ottawa in the final. In this year's edition, they won just one of their six games.
"This year has been a rebuild year for us," says Emily Renneberg, one of the Mustangs' players. "Our goal is to connect as a team and be able to play more cohesively."
The Mustangs have started to find their groove as the season's progressed, and they're looking ahead to the provincial championships coming up from March 8 to 10. Under head coach Glenn Hayter, the inexperienced group is hoping to pick up some momentum in their final game of the regular season.
That contest will be Western's lone home game at Thompson Arena this year. They're playing Waterloo-Duncan on March 3, and the Mustangs are hoping for a good showing to drum up some interest in their team to potentially drive recruiting.
According to Renneberg, the Mustangs are hoping to bring a few more players into the fold to bolster their lineup for next season.
"We're trying to recruit pretty hard right now," she says. "I know a lot of girls on campus have played. They just don't know about the varsity team."
This year, it's been especially tough to get the word out with just one game at Thompson Arena. Even though the Mustangs have struggled in the 2017–18 season, Renneberg says people can still appreciate ringette itself.
"We're trying to promote the sport as a whole," she says. "It's a really awesome sport that the girls really benefit from. It's underrated I guess. A lot of people don't know about it, but it's an awesome sport even though the team's not doing so hot."
Although it may resemble hockey, Renneberg explains that there are a lot of differences in ringette. She says it's more of a tactical game, with different rules about how you can attack.
Only three players can enter the offensive zone, for example, which means passes have to be more strategic. There's a 30-second shot clock, forcing teams to act fast when they have possession.
"It's the fastest game on ice," she says.
The Mustangs' game against Waterloo-Duncan is on Saturday at 8 p.m., when they'll be hoping to close out the regular season with a victory.