As head coach of the University of Winnipeg Wesmen women’s basketball team, Tanya McKay knows the game is all about teamwork.
It’s why McKay hesitates to take the credit for being named Canada West women’s basketball coach of the year and emphasizes the hard work that everyone around her put in this past season.
"I think being selected is a reflection of your program," McKay said. "It’s truly an honour to be recognized in our conference. There are 17 universities, so to be selected by other coaches is truly an honour."
McKay’s colleagues from throughout Canada West voted for her after what she calls one of the team’s best seasons. She is currently in her 21st year at the University of Winnipeg (U of W), from which she graduated with a business and education degree before going right into coaching.
"I think it’s a credit to the effort of the kids because they’re doing all the work and also our assistant coaches, who put in a lot of time," McKay said.
She has worked with assistant coach Tami Pennell for 13 years and Richard Gooch for nine, and says their familiarity with each other helps support the players.
"We work really hard in the off season and in-season together and it’s a combination of the kids you have, recruiting and the effort of all the coaches working together," McKay said.
As well, Henry de Guzman works with the players on strength, conditioning and speed while Gerren McDonald trains with and assesses the players every few months. Solid training is a key to retaining players, McKay says.
"When the season ends, you put your hat on and begin to focus on recruiting and retaining," McKay said. "Now, we’re training and making sure the retained kids are ready to go in September."
She says this year’s group, which just barely missed qualifying for the U Sports national championships, stood out in its work ethic.
"Last year we didn’t make the playoffs, so the core group made their mind up they were going to be better and we started training last April," McKay said. "We put a lot of time in during off season, we were practicing or scrimmaging two times a week… we hit the season and just kept going."
She said high standards were set when the team won its first 10 games in league play.
"The kids began to really get that we’re pretty good so we just bounced off that," she said.
Although the Wesmen made it to the final four of the Canada West conference, the team just missed making the conference final, which would have qualified it for the national tournament.
"We knew we were good enough," she said. "We knew it would be close."