HIGH ACHIEVERS: Stay-Safe Edition
Keeping Local Sport Spirit High During the Pandemic
By Martin Cleary
Rose-Anne Joly and Sarah Besselink have lived the University of Ottawa Gee-Gees women’s basketball experience as players and as assistant coaches. Now, they’ve been supersized.
After four years as a volunteer assistant and lead assistant coach (2016-20), Joly has been appointed Gee-Gees interim head coach for the scheduled 2021-22 OUA season. COVID-19 cancelled the 2020-21 OUA regular season.
Joly took over the head coaching position from Andy Sparks, who was the longest-serving (13 years) and winningest coach in program history (188-67 regular season, 27-23 playoffs, two national championship bronze medals).
The Gee-Gees recently announced Besselink will embrace her first university coaching assignment by serving as the Gee-Gees’ women’s full-time lead assistant coach.
Joly, who had a short three-game career for the Gee-Gees in 2009-10, gained coaching experience at the high school, CEGEP and Quebec provincial levels before joining Ottawa as a volunteer assistant in 2016-17.
She had an impact in her first season and was made the program’s full-time lead assistant coach for the next three seasons. During her four years, the Gee-Gees were 67-20 (regular season) and 106-52 (overall).
In September 2020, Joly headed to Dubai to coach the NBA Basketball School curriculum so young players could develop their skills. When Sparks retired, she applied to return to the Gee-Gees program as head coach.
“I am beyond excited and thankful to come back home and have the honour to coach the Gee-Gees women’s basketball team,” Joly, who is from Gatineau, said in a media release.
“This is not only a great opportunity to join the University of Ottawa staff again, but also coach a group of young women that I respect and admire. Having the chance to lead the team after coach Sparks’s outstanding career will be a challenge, but one that I am excited for and ready to face.”
Joly previously coached at École Polyvalente Nicolas-Gatineau from 2006-09, Collège Nouvelles Frontières from 2010-16, and with the Quebec and Ontario age-group programs in 2016, 2017 and 2019.
She also is president/founder of Basket Plus, which supports youth living in poverty by building communities through strategic partnerships involving varsity teams, the private sector and local non-governmental groups.
Joly spearheaded the Gee-Gees women’s basketball program in its role to help build an outdoor basketball court in Togo in 2018, and a sports complex in Haiti in 2019.
Besselink, who was the assistant coach with the Canada Topflight Academy senior women’s team from 2017-20, served as a Gee-Gees assistant coach for the 2020-21 season, which was practice oriented with no games.
“I am really excited for this new chapter. Basketball has always been such an important part of my life. When this amazing opportunity came up, I jumped at it,” said Besselink, a Kingston basketball product who played with the Gee-Gees from 2013-19.
In her varsity career, Besselink scored 850 points in 92 regular-season games, making her the program’s fourth all-time leading scorer. She also was an OUA All-Rookie team member and twice a second-team all-star.
“I always knew I wanted to be a teacher, and as I was playing, I realized that I really like coaching,” added Besselink, who has Bachelor of Human Kinetics and Bachelor of Education degrees.
“They really are the same and coincide well with each other. Teaching will always be there for me, but an assistant coaching job with a perennially, nationally-ranked team and such a great organization doesn’t happen every day. I’m really looking forward to pulling from my own experiences and helping guide the players along that path.”
Joly is thrilled to be reunited with Besselink and have her join the Gee-Gees women’s basketball coaching staff.
“I really enjoyed coaching her for three years and I got to see the kind of impact she had on our team,” Joly said. “I know the passion and dedication she has for the Gee-Gees women’s basketball program and it will be great to see her bring that on a daily basis as our lead assistant coach.”
The Gee-Gees women’s basketball program will start its 50th regular season Nov. 5 at Montpetit Hall, facing the York University Lions. It will be the Gee-Gees’ first game in 618 days because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Martin Cleary has written about amateur sports for 48 years. A past Canadian sportswriter of the year and Ottawa Sports Awards Lifetime Achievement in Sport Media honouree, Martin retired from full-time work at the Ottawa Citizen in 2012, but continued to write a bi-weekly “High Achievers” column for the Citizen/Sun.
When the pandemic struck, Martin created the “Stay-Safe Edition” to provide some positive news during tough times, via his Twitter account at first and now here at OttawaSportsPages.ca.
Martin can be reached by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter @martincleary.