THUNDER BAY — If the Lakehead Thunderwolves were looking to make a good impression on new coach Hugo Boisvert, mission accomplished.
The women’s basketball team on Friday afternoon raced out to an 18-0 lead on the visiting Algoma Thunderwolves, endured a few bumps in the road the rest of the way, an hung on to edge their OUA counterparts 69-64 as they opened preseason play at the C.J. Sanders Fieldhouse.
For Kirpa Brar, who spent most of last season on the sidelines recovering from injury, it was a chance to show not only Boisvert what she can do, but the hometown fans.
If her 2023-24 debut is any indication, she’s going to play a big role in any success the Thunderwolves have this season.
Brar, who calls Brampton, Ont., home, scored 13 points, hitting three of six three-pointers, her point total behind only veteran guard Ally Burke and Spanish import Eva Guilera, who is starting the season healthy for the first time in her Lakehead career.
Just playing again is a relief.
“Last season, we didn’t really have a healthy roster. This is a very university-oriented community. People would walk by and ask how we were doing, because we weren’t playing, weren’t suited up,” Brar said.
“So, it’s great to show that Lakehead can compete when we’re all healthy. We are a basketball school.” Boisvert, trying to build a new identity for the Thunderwolves, a team he inherited from longtime coach Jon Kreiner, said Friday’s opener was the first test of many this season, as he looks to turn the team’s fortunes around from last season’s 3-19 disaster that buried them in the basement of the OUA Central Division.
“That was my message to the girls before (the game), let’s show what we are trying to get to right now,” Boisvert said.
“A lot of it is just taking pride on the defensive end of the floor, the activity on that end and being a little bit more dictating the issue a little bit more. We want to be less passive defensively and more aggressive. I thought we were today for parts of the game, but that was a roller-coaster game, to say the least. We had some good flashes, where we were playing the way we wanted to be. The start of the game was a good example.”
The Wolves looked like world beaters for the first seven-and-a-half minutes.
LU hit five of six free throws to open the contest and build a 5-0 lead, Brar’s first three of the day boosting the lead to 14-0.
The Thunderbirds didn’t roll over, and finished the opening quarter with eight straight points, Gracie Rae Batongbakal finally breaking the shutout with a three-pointer at the 7:44 mark.
Lakehead maintained a double-digit lead for most of the second, but Algoma did battle back to within six when Stephanie Marin buried a three to close the gap to 28-22. But as she did multiple times in the game, Burke went coast-to-coast with a response, and hit the ensuing foul shot, bumping the lead back to nine. Guilera followed with a bucket of her own and Lakehead took a 33-24 lead into the half.
LU led by as many as 21 in the third, but took their foot off the gas in the fourth, allowing Algoma to battle back, a 5-0 run cutting the gap to three.
But time ran out on their comeback bid.
Algoma's Kaila Fong had 24 to lead all scorers.
The Wolves and Thunderbirds will tangle again on Saturday. Tip-off is 2 p.m.