By Sports Fanatic
The University of Ottawa Gee-Gees women’s basketball Team tipped off their 2011-2012 season with a one-week training camp held from Aug. 29-Sept. 2. Sixteen girls hit the floor for nine training sessions over five days under the guidance of fourth-year head coach Andy Sparks.
In his first two years, coach Sparks’ teams captured the Ontario University Athletics East championship and participated in the Canadian Interuniversity Sport national finals, but the 2010-2011 campaign was an extremely frustrating one.
Last year, the team failed to repeat as OUA East champions, fighting through an injury-riddled and inconsistent year. The team finished the OUA regular season with a 14-8 record and then went 2-2 in the playoffs to end up sixth overall in the 16-team OUA.
There is renewed optimism heading into the 2011-2012 campaign as the team has had an excellent recruiting year and is deeper and more talented than in previous years.
However, there are still two big question marks surrounding this year’s team; the first is the fact that only seven of the 16 players who attended training camp were on the team last season, and secondly, 12 of those 16 players are either first- or second-year players.
Hannah Sunley-Paisley appears to once again be the backbone of the team. The 6’1″ Sunley-Paisley is entering her fifth year and was both an All-Canadian and OUA East Player of the Year the last two seasons.
In 2010-2011, she averaged 15.9 pts/game to finish fifth in the OUA and she led the OUA in rebounds with 11.5 per game. She is one of the most dominant forwards in the country and a big season is needed from her in 2011-2012 for the Gee-Gees to return to the CIS nationals.
Jenna Gilbert from Ottawa returns for her second year with the team and is expected to play a huge role. The 6’0″ Gilbert is entering her fourth year of eligibility but was only allowed to play for the second half of last season after transferring from Lasalle University in Philadelphia after having to sit out one full year. Gilbert had an inconsistent year in 2010-2011 but displayed flashes of brilliance and was selected an OUA all star.
The other returnees from last year’s squad include second-year guards Sara Nolette of Edmonton and Emilie Cyr from Montreal, second-year forward Liz Dent from Sarnia and 5’9″ second-year guard Tatiana Hanlan from Gatineau. Alyssa DeWit from the Cornwall area also returns, but she is considered a first-year player after red shirting in 2010-2011.
There are nine new faces joining the team this year, led by two fifth-year players who are attending the University of Ottawa to pursue Graduate Studies, as well as some excellent recruits.
Bess Lennox, an Ottawa native and former OUA All-Star and All-Canadian with the Western Mustangs will provide excellent depth and leadership. The 6’1″ Lennox, a graduate of Coach Sparks’ old stomping grounds at Ashbury College, has played professionally the last two years in Australia and Switzerland and should be a force in the front court.
“I coached Bess in both high school and community basketball and she is not only a high level player, she is a great person,” Sparks says. “She is going to be a great role model for our younger players.”
Teddy Firmi is the other fifth-year player making her debut with the Gee-Gees. The 5’8″ Firmi is a former team captain and OUA Defensive Player of the Year during her four-year career at Queen’s University.
The Gee-Gees’ prize recruit this year is Ottawa native Kellie Ring. The 5’10” point guard turned down many NCAA offers to remain in Canada and was one of the most sought-after players in Canada. She starred for Louis-Riel high school, leading them to back-to-back OFSAA provincial ‘AAA’ championships, and also led her club team to the provincial title last spring.
“We are honoured that Kellie decided to choose us and we look forward to, not only her basketball skill, but her leadership and desire to succeed,” Sparks notes. “As talented as Kellie is as a player, it’s her strength of character that sets her apart from most athletes.”
Ring has also represented Canada on four occasions over the last three summers as she was part of the U16, U17, U18 and U19 national teams that played in world championships and worlds qualifying tournaments.
Maddie Stephen from Toronto is also a top recruit. The 6’1″ forward was a top high school player and former Team Ontario player with Ring on the under-15 2008 national champion team.
Emily Vachon from Ottawa is one player that could be a real bonus for the team. The 5’9″ guard attended Binghampton University in the U.S. last year but she missed all season due to an ankle injury. An Ottawa native and former Louis-Riel star, Vachon will be a welcomed addition if she can regain her health after missing a full year.
Ariane Lachance from Gatineau is another first-year player who is expected to contribute immediately. The 5’10 Lachance can play the guard or small forward positions and was a top player in the Quebec CEGEP League.
Kaitlin Dafoe, a 5’11” forward from Huntsville, 6’0″ forward Ashley Hoover from Windsor and 5’8″ guard Renee Leduc from Gatineau are all first-year players who round out the 16-player roster.
Sparks, who ran the Ottawa Shock youth basketball program for many years before accepting the Gee-Gees post, believes that maintaining a strong link and helping to build local club basketball is a major key to his team’s success.
“It’s super important for both (Carleton University coach) Taffe (Charles) and I,” Sparks explains. “If we’re going to be successful at the national level – and I think both our programs are close to that now – we have to make sure our grassroots level continues to give us players.”
The Gee-Gees will open their exhibition schedule in early October when they host McGill and Concordia at Montpetit Hall. With 75 pr cent of the team in their first or second year and more than half of the players new to the team, Sparks will be working hard this fall to develop the right team chemistry for the start of the OUA regular season in early November.