By Elio Elia
In sports, you’re hard-pressed to find anybody who takes losing easily, and for Ottawa’s Capital Courts Academy girls basketball team, they’re no exception.
Capital Courts is a team of high school-aged girls trained to become the best, something they fell short of last year by losing in the championship game of the Ontario Scholastic Basketball Association (OSBA). On the eve of the second shot they had this year to avenge last year’s last second 71-70 loss to Crestwood Preparatory College in their league’s finals, Capital Courts felt a strong need to redeem themselves.
“It was painful,” Capital Courts star guard Merissah Russell recalled of last year’s championship in an interview with the Ottawa Sportspage. “We were the only team that season in Canada that gave them a good game. It was tricky, and unfortunately we ended up losing by 1 and it broke my heart.”
Russell is the 2nd highest ranked prospect in the 2020 Canadian class of women’s high school basketball players, trailing only Crestwood’s Aaliyah Edwards. A commit, already, to the University of Louisville’s women’s basketball team, Russell has been a force for Capital Courts on both ends of the floor this season. She leads the OSBA in points-per-game and steals-per-game.
About this season, Russell has described it as one where her Capital Courts team has “worked harder” to try and avoid the same outcome as last year.
“Our coaches are constantly reminding us of how we felt after that game, and that we don’t want to feel that way again,” Russell said. As for the insight gained from the loss, Russell says the team “should never settle. Just keep going and train hard. Those are the lessons we apply in our training and practice.”
Capital Courts coach Fabienne Blizzard said she thinks the team is capable of correcting the course this time around.
“It’s been an adjustment for all of us, specifically the new girls, but I think now everything is falling into place,” Blizzard said of this season.
Looking at the Capital Courts program as a whole, there’s been more thought given this year into implementing resources to help the girls not only leave the program as confident athletes, but also to graduate ready to take the world by storm. They recently added a psychologist to their team, which Blizzard called a final piece to the puzzle, given the team’s philosophy that providing their athletes with mental training is as important as on the physical side.
Ahead of their Feb. 7 away matchup against Crestwood (Capital Courts lost a home game to Crestwood 92-74 earlier this season), Blizzard said her feelings are like that of Russell’s.
“We want to come back, we want to get to the finals,” Blizzard said. “It’s there for us, and that’s our goal.”
As for her thoughts on her team’s star, Blizzard said Russell’s potential for growth is “insane” and that she expects her to turn into a “monster” in the NCAA with the perennially top-ranked Cardinals. The coach also expects big things from Russell off the court as well.
“Everybody thinks of her as a jock, but she’s a lot more than that. Keeping your marks up, that’s a big deal. She’s a great student along with being an athlete, and nobody gets how much work goes into that,” Blizzard said.
Russell said, as well, that there is more to her than just “Merissah Russell: basketball player,” saying that her mother often says she has two personalities – the one between the baselines, and the “chill” person outside of them.
Blizzard also had praise for Russell for being an inspiration to younger players, saying that she often tells her, “it’s not just for you, there will be people that want to follow in your footsteps.”
Capital Courts will continue chasing revenge against Crestwood after falling to the team by a score of 83-68 in February. Crestwood (with a record of 18-1) is the only team Capital Courts (16-3) trails in the OSBA’s east division. The league’s championship tournament takes place in early March, where the teams could once again face off.
Prior to their most recent game against Crestwood, Blizzard summed up her team’s attitude towards the season: “At the end of the day, we want to go back there and take care of business, and that starts with the game (against Crestwood).”
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