By Martin Cleary
Nationals, here we come!
That will be the battle cry for the Carleton University Ravens men’s and women’s basketball teams as well as the University of Ottawa Gee-Gees men’s basketball squad as they prepare to head East for the U Sports Final 8 championships.
But first, there’s one more OUA on-court battle each of the three teams must encounter before the national championships next week in Sydney, Nova Scotia, for the women and Halifax for the men. No matter the results of the OUA championship games for the men’s Wilson Cup and the women’s Critelli Cup on Saturday, all three Ottawa-based teams are nationals-bound.
That issue was resolved on Wednesday night on their respective home courts, when Carleton swept a rare playoff doubleheader and Ottawa was energized by its capacity Montpetit Hall crowd in its critical men’s game.
The No. 2-nationally-ranked Carleton women’s team set the tone for the evening of OUA semi-final basketball with a convincing win over the No. 7 McMaster University Marauders 69-55. The No. 1 Ravens men’s team followed with a tense 93-86 decision over No. 5 Queen’s University Gaels.
A few city blocks over, the No. 3 Gee-Gees held off the University of Windsor Lancers in a back-and-forth struggle and posted a 79-74 decision, which gave them a berth in the OUA final.
The Critelli Cup final could be worthy of a national final as No. 1 Queen’s will play host to No. 2 Carleton in Kingston on Saturday. In the regular season, Carleton lost to Queen’s on the road 71-65 in November, but rebounded at home for a stunning 64-32 decision in January.
The OUA men’s Wilson Cup final will see crosstown rivals Carleton and Ottawa play in the provincial championship for the first time since 2014. In the regular season, the Ravens swept both games from the Gee-Gees, taking the Capital Hoops Classic 67-61 and again at home 77-60 in a pair of February games.
Kali Pocrnic was one minute shy of playing the entire semifinal for the Ravens women’s side, scoring 21 points and also registering four rebounds, three assists and two steals. Kyana-Jade Poulin also had a 39-minute game with 11 points, six rebounds, three steals and two blocked shots.
Dorcas Buisa and Jacqueline Urban also made significant contributions. Buisa scored 12 points and added seven rebounds and two steals, while Urban continued her strong rebounding with seven as well as chipping in 10 points before fouling out.
“A tough, physical battle against a very good team,” assessed Carleton head coach Dani Sinclair in a press release. “They (Marauders) fought hard and closed the gap pretty tight in the fourth quarter. But I’m proud of our girls for coming together, especially in the fourth quarter, when the game had gotten tight.”
Sinclair was impressed with the defensive play of Poulin, a first-year guard who shadowed McMaster’s high-scoring Sarah Gates, the recipient of the OUA’s MVP a few hours before the game.
“I thought she did an incredible job. I thought (the key was) using her length and not making it easy for her to get catches and go downhill,” Sinclair added. “We ask them to play with lots of emotion, togetherness and talk on defence.”
The Carleton men’s team only carried a one-point lead into the fourth quarter at 62-61, but outscored the Gaels 31-25 in the final period for the win.
Seniors Aiden Warnholtz and Grant Shephard again emerged as key players for the Ravens.
Warnholtz hit six of his 12 field-goal attempts and all nine free throws (including seven in the final 36 seconds) for 23 points and also recorded 11 assists and five defensive rebounds. Shephard was impressive around the basket, converting 10 of his 12 field-goal shots and both free throws for 22 points. His double-double also included 10 rebounds, three assists and three blocked shots.
The Ravens also benefited from the play of Marjok Okado (17 points, four rebounds, three steals), Connor Vreeken (12 points, seven rebounds) and Elliot Bailey (five points, nine rebounds, two assists).
The Gee-Gees trailed Windsor by two points with four minutes left in their semifinal, but the home team stayed calm and pulled out the victory.
Kevin Otoo, who along with Cole Newton scored six points each to help the Gee-Gees pull away from the Lancers in the third quarter, finished with 18 points and five rebounds. Newton’s numbers included 10 points, four rebounds and two assists.
Dragan Stajic scored 17 points for the Gee-Gees as well as adding seven assists, four rebounds and three steals. Guillaume Pepin had 14 points and four rebounds, while Josh Inkumsah had 12 points, seven rebounds and two blocked shots.
“Having the atmosphere, the crowd and all the student-athletes here tonight (Wednesday) was outstanding,” Gee-Gees head coach James Derouin said in a university press release. “This was probably the most relevant game in this gym since we (played host to) the (OUA) Final Four in 2015.
“Our defence again came through for us. We lean so heavily on our half-court defence and it was huge for us tonight.”
As the conference championship games approach, the OUA has announced its annual individual award winners and all-stars. The men’s and women’s honour rolls includes many Ravens and Gee-Gees.
Jacqueline Urban of Carleton was selected the OUA Rookie of the Year, while Brigitte Lefebvre-Okankwu of Ottawa earned the Equity, Diversity and Inclusion Award.
Urban, a psychology student from Ancaster, ON., started 21 of 22 regular-season games and finished second in the OUA in total rebounds at 238, which broke the Ravens’ single-season record held by Heather Lindsay. Urban also was second among her teammates in scoring with 219 points and third in minutes played at 594.
Urban was named to the All-Rookie Team with Queen’s University’s Isabella Gaudet of Ottawa.
Lefebvre-Okankwu, a master’s student in science management, won the Gee-Gees women’s basketball community engagement award in 2020-21 and the uOttawa President’s Award in 2021-22 as a founding member of the Black Student-Athletes Advocacy Council, which is mandated to increase BIPOC representation and foster equity in the varsity athletics department.
She also helped to spearhead a fund raising and awareness campaign for Black Lives Matter with a 1,666-kilometre virtual run to Minneapolis in 2020. Early in her career, she contributed to team humanitarian projects to increase the presence of basketball in Togo and Haiti.
Lefebvre-Okankwu also was selected to the OUA’s First All-Star Team along with Kali Pocrnic of Carleton and Queen’s University’s Julia Chadwick of Ottawa.
The Gee-Gees’ Natsuki Szczokin and the Ravens’ Dorcas Buisa earned berths on the Third All-Star Team.
Carleton’s Aiden Warnholtz was a double honouree among the men, winning the Ken Shields Award for his collective athletic, academic and community efforts and being named a First-Team All-Star along with the Gee-Gees’ Guillaume Pepin.
A four-time Academic All-Canadian as a health sciences student, Warnholtz has acted as a mentor and tutor for the Athletes Combating Racism organization in Ottawa. He has won three national titles, two provincial championships and this season set Ravens records for most assists (145) and minutes played (731). He also was first in assists in the OUA this season and ninth in scoring and three-point shooting percentage.
Ravens teammate Grant Shephard was selected to the Second All-Star Team, while the Gee-Gees’ Dragan Stajic earned a spot on the Third All-Star Team.
The All-Rookie Team included Marjok Okado of Carleton and Jacques-Melaine Guemeta of Ottawa.
Martin Cleary has written about amateur sports for 50 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 High Achievers “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.
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