By Martin Cleary
When the scoreboard buzzer sounded to the end National Capital Secondary School Athletic Association girls’ senior basketball final, the celebration instantly ignited for the Cairine Wilson Wildcats.
Their 46-35 victory over the Osgoode Panthers sent a full range of sounds through the neutral-site St. Mother Teresa High School gymnasium as the players on the varsity team shared the school’s third senior basketball title with a busload of their exuberant peers, parents and friends.
The joy of the milestone moment continued as the players received their medals and the trophy for winning the final in the Diamond Division, the highest level of basketball for senior girls under the NCSSAA’s new operating format.
But there was something missing. Their perfect season of 11 league and playoff wins in as many games didn’t include a plaque to the OFSAA provincial high school championship, the ultimate goal for any competitive interscholastic team or individual in Ontario.
That decision was made in September, when head coach Andrew McCrae was trying to figure out what the Wildcats girls’ senior basketball team would look like. Would there be a junior and a senior team? Would there only be a varsity team?
When a dozen players entered the gymnasium for tryouts, bringing a full range of skills from experienced to beginner, McCrae decided to go with a varsity team, which included seven Grade 12s and two players willing to learn the game.
Following the successful pilot scheduling program from the boys’ senior basketball season in the spring of 2022, the NCSSAA asked each school if it had intentions of trying to qualify for the OFSAA championships. After the schools responded and registered to play the girls’ senior 2022 season, the NCSSAA ranked each school based on the records of their senior and junior teams from the 2021-22 campaign.
In past years, the teams were divided into three competitive divisions – OFSAA, Tier 1 and Tier 2. The new pilot project of ranking teams and slotting them into seven geographical divisions to play for seven different titles was meant to bring more equality to the league and have the schools play more meaningful games.
McCrae wanted to play against the top teams, but since the Wildcats won only one senior and one junior game each last year, they were considered a Tier 2-equivalent school in the rankings. At the start of the season, the Wildcats weren’t on the list of schools willing to bid for an OFSAA berth, according to the NCSSAA.
“We required all teams to declare at the start of the season,” NCSSAA co-athletic director Steve Smith said in a phone interview. “We have to say which teams could go. If not, we could be sanctioned (by OFSAA).
“We may have to tweak that (in the future) and maybe do it later.”
Knowing what he knows now, McCrae probably would have wanted to chase the OFSAA dream.
“It has been a point of contention my last few weeks,” McCrae said in a phone interview. “The teams qualifying for OFSAA would be determined by the Diamond Division winners. When I was asked about what level to play in, I said Tier 1 (top division).”
But the rankings based on last year’s results left the Wildcats in the East 2 division for their opening six regular-season games. The NCSSAA created three West Division leagues, three East Division leagues and one East/West Division league.
“It has been challenging. I feel I didn’t do my due diligence,” added McCrae, who said an appeal process to NCSSAA through the school’s athletic director was unsuccessful. “It’s very frustrating. I do appreciate the new system and I like it.
“For the most part, they (players) have accepted it. It’s because of the quality of people we have on the team. At the (medal) ceremony, they gave the OFSAA plaque to the team we beat and that was an awkward situation.
“It’s not anything they (Wildcat players) did. It’s nothing for them to worry about.”
Despite not being in the running for OFSAA, the Wildcats played like a championship team. McCrae used all his players throughout the season, giving the newcomers and the experienced players a chance to work together, grow and succeed.
The Wildcats posted an unblemished 6-0 record in their regular-season round robin and finished as East 2 Division champions. They won their games by an average of 15.5 points.
In a pair of overlap games to determine which of the seven playoff brackets they would enter, the Wildcats defeated Béatrice-Desloges 45-42 and Ashbury 40-25 to earn the fourth seed in the top Diamond Division.
In the eight-team Diamond-Division bracket, the Wildcats turned back the three NCSSAA teams that would eventually qualify for the OFSAA championships. The Wildcats defeated Earl of March 35-34 in the quarterfinals, Nepean 44-32 in the semifinals and Osgoode 46-35 in the final.
The three OFSAA girls’ basketball championships will be held Nov. 24-26 in Southern Ontario.
Osgoode will compete in Walkerton at the class A tournament (for schools with the smallest student populations), while Béatrice-Desloges, which defeated Immaculata 68-38 in a play-in game, will go to the class AA championship in Stratford, and Earl of March, which outscored Nepean 47-41 in a play-in game, will move into the class AAA tournament (for schools with the largest student populations) in Windsor.
McCrae has many positive memories of a season that started with many questions as to what direction the girls’ basketball program would head and finished with a spectacular, undefeated season.
“It was fun. The thing is our seniors are really, really good people, fantastic young ladies. They allowed the Grade 9s to take their space and have this opportunity.
“They had a tremendous variety of skills and knowledge. Our core seniors were amazing.”
The other six NCSSAA girls’ senior basketball division champions are:
Platinum Division (fifth through eighth): Béatrice-Desloges defeated A.Y. Jackson 47-44 in the final.
Gold Division (ninth through 12th): Samuel Genest defeated Notre Dame 33-23.
Silver Division (13th through 16th): Gloucester defeated Franco-Ouest 49-41.
Bronze Division (17th through 20th): De La Salle defeated Woodroffe 56-24.
Copper Division (21st through 24th): Brookfield defeated Omer-Deslauriers 23-16.
Cookie Jar (25th through 27th): Elmwood defeated Lisgar 44-33.
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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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