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U SPORTS GOLDEN SERIES: Four Ottawa female student-athletes won U Sports championships in three different sports during the 2021-22 university varsity season. Their stories will be presented here this week. Here is Part 3 of 4:
By Martin Cleary
A Tale of Two Cities is considered a classic in the book world and a masterpiece by Charles Dickens.
Student/athlete Eve Uwayesu of Ottawa could write her own classic, at least in her eyes, and call it A Tale of Two Universities.
When Uwayesu graduated from Glebe Collegiate Institute in 2017, she decided to attend the University of Windsor to study human kinetics and play for the reputable Lancers women’s basketball program.
In her first three years, the Lancers won 20 or more games each season as they headed into the Ontario university playoffs. But the Lancers couldn’t clear that playoff hurdle to qualify for the U Sports national women’s basketball championship tournament. That frustrated Uwayesu, whose major goal was to play in that season-ending tournament.
And then the COVID-19 pandemic shut down OUA sports for 2020-21 and cancelled the women’s basketball season. That was another year without a serious run at the national championship.
And it left her thinking, seriously thinking.
Uwayesu decided to transfer to Ryerson University, which has since been renamed Metropolitan Toronto University, but maintained her ties with the University of Windsor.
“It’s a complicated story,” Uwayesu said, explaining she could transfer to Ryerson for the 2021-22 academic year and apply her course credits to her Windsor degree as well as play for the Rams women’s basketball program.
“In the midst of COVID, I wasn’t sure if there would be a (basketball) season. I felt a transfer to a new team would be better for me.”
Since the pandemic had shut down varsity sports for the 2020-21 season, U Sports gave every eligible student/athlete a one-year credit and allowed them to transfer universities without sitting out one year.
“I’m technically graduating from the University of Windsor,” added Uwayesu, who received a Letter of Permission to be connected with two universities. “I’m able to take courses at another university and can transfer them back to Windsor.”
By taking three courses a semester, she was considered a full-time student at Ryerson. She has another five courses to complete before finishing her degree at Windsor.
By transferring to Ryerson to work towards her degree, she also realized her major athletic goal of winning a national championship.
The Rams went undefeated in the OUA East Division at 14-0 and won all six playoff games, including a monumental comeback win in the OUA final, which allowed them to post three victories during the national championship tournament at Queen’s University.
The U Sports championship tournament wouldn’t have been possible if the Rams hadn’t overcome a 22-point deficit with seven minutes left in the fourth quarter against Brock University in the OUA final.
Uwayesu was calm and confident in that moment as she had lived through a similar, though opposite, experience in the 2019-20 OUA quarterfinals. The Lancers were leading Brock by 20 points in the fourth quarter. But Brock outscored Windsor 29-6 in the final frame and rallied for a 61-57 win.
Uwayesu, who was a first-off-the-bench player for the Rams, spent a lot of time on the floor when the Rams stormed back to beat Brock for the OUA title. She told her teammates “this has been done before, we must put our heads down and grind it out as best we can.”
The Rams outscored Brock 31-15 in the fourth quarter to tie the game 67-67 and force overtime. In the low-scoring extra period, the Rams emerged 72-70 winners.
“It was the shock of my career,” Uwayesu said about the comeback victory that qualified the Rams for the national championship tournament.
“The way we won it and how the game transpired, that’s the highlight of my life and career. It’s still indescribable. It was possible to do it. I believed because of the group and coach (head coach Carly Clarke) we had. I looked at my teammates and believed we could do it.”
It was going to be difficult to trump that memory, but the U Sports championship tournament was on par.
When Uwayesu joined the Rams for the 2021, she rolled an ankle early in the process and was worried since she hadn’t played much basketball in almost two years. By the time she was healthy, the experienced five-foot, six-inch guard was ready to mould herself into any role for the team.
At nationals, she didn’t start any of the three games, but averaged more than 22 minutes coming off the bench. In each game, she contributed in many different ways.
The Rams defeated the University of Prince Edward Island 80-49 in the quarterfinals and Uwayesu grabbed five defensive rebounds, had three assists, one steal, one blocked shot and one free throw.
While her field goal shooting continued to be somewhat awry in the Rams’ 64-56 overtime semifinal win against Brock, she pulled down six rebounds, added one steal and her first two-point field goal.
In the final, Uwayesu found her scoring touch as she was her team’s third-best scorer with 12 points as the Rams defeated University of Winnipeg 70-48 for the gold medal. She hit four of her five field-goal attempts from three-point range and added two assists, one rebound and one blocked shot in 19 minutes.
“I was excited to be on the floor. It was the moment I had dreamed of,” said Uwayesu, who also was thrilled to have her mother Clementine Uwayesantije and sister Deborah Pacific in the stands.
“It was an indescribable feeling (to win the national title). There were heightened emotions. It was all worth it – the sacrifices, the pain, the school work, the all-nighters. I had accomplished what I had set out to do. I am very grateful.”
In the future, Uwayesu would like to play professional basketball or return to rugby. She was named to Team Canada as a rugby 7s player for the 2017 Commonwealth Youth Games.
As she determines what’s next for her athletic career, Uwayesu can be inspired by winning a U Sports national championship.
“It showed me a lot about hard work and dedication,” she highlighted. “If you put in the hours and sacrifices, it does amount to something.”
Martin Cleary has written about amateur sports for 49 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 email@example.com and on Twitter @martincleary.
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