By Martin Cleary
As the Algonquin College Wolves women’s basketball team approached its 2022-23 Ontario Colleges Athletic Association season, head coach Jaime McLean had a good feeling about his team of six returning players and the new recruits.
But there was a major concern, lurking in the background.
“I knew we would be competitive because the group of young women was talented, but I wasn’t sure we would be deep enough to push for a deep playoff run,” McLean wrote in an email interview.
Sadly for the Wolves, he was right.
After a golden effort in the OCAA’s East Division regular season and finishing in first place with a 14-0 record, the Wolves playoff season fell one game shy of the final and a chance to represent the province at the national championships.
At the start of the season, the main goal for the returning players was to reach the provincial championship and defeat Niagara College Knights of Welland. The Wolves’ final game last season was a 67-52 loss in the bronze-medal game to Niagara, after the team had lost its entire coaching staff and half its roster to COVID-19.
When Algonquin met Niagara in the quarterfinals instead of the title tussle, the Wolves were ready and scored a 63-53 win. Award-winning Dasia McDonald scored 16 points and Libby Hirst added 15 points.
“We came into the game (quarterfinal) with laser focus and were able to achieve the game plan,” McLean explained. “We knew we would have to be at the top of our game defensively to slow down the bigger Niagara (team) and would have to team rebound to limit Niagara’s chances.”
Algonquin was patient and kept responding in positive ways to Niagara’s multiple point surges.
But the semifinal was the total opposite for the Wolves, who were outplayed 53-38 by Lambton College Lions of Sarnia. It would be the Wolves’ only loss of the season.
“The game against Lambton had to be our worst performance of the year,” McLean wrote. “We struggled against the much faster pace.
“We gave up 11 second-chance points and 17 points off turnovers. All things considered, if we had halved those two stat lines, it would have been a much closer game. All credit goes to Lambton on completely nailing their game plan.”
Algonquin shot only 27.3 per cent from the field (15 of 55) and Hirst was the team’s top scorer with nine points.
But the Wolves had one game remaining at the provincial championship tournament earlier this month and they made the most of it, defeating the Fanshawe College Falcons 56-62 in the bronze-medal game.
McDonald finished her season on a high note with 19 points, five rebounds, five steals, two assists and two blocked shots. Hirst was equally productive with 10 points, 13 rebounds and five blocks.
“It was a great feeling to win the bronze. I am very proud of the young women bouncing back and putting forward a great last game to be able to get the medal,” McLean continued. “The ladies proved they could be patient and keep fighting back with every possession.”
The strong finish can be attributed to a strong start to their season.
“This group came together quickly at the beginning of the year and built a strong foundation of trust and respect,” he added. “These young women truly loved each other and didn’t care who got the big stats each game.
“Each game, all they cared about was competing as hard as they could to get the win. The young women are very supportive of each other and were happier for each other than for their own success. When you have that kind of team, you can achieve a lot of things.”
Besides the team success, which also saw the Wolves win the East Division pennant, earn top defensive honours and finish the regular season ranked No. 5 in the country, four players earned individual awards.
McDonald, a second-year guard, led the way as the East player of the year and defensive player of the year. She also was an OCAA first-team all-star for the second straight year and one of three OCAA players named Canadian Collegiate Athletic Association All-Canadians. She was first in the OCAA in steals at 63, third in field-goal percentage at 49.3 and seventh in scoring at 15.4 points a game.
The OCAA first all-star team also included Hirst, who was third in the conference in rebounds at 11.1 a game. Meaghan McNamara was fourth in the conference three-point shooting percentage category at 33.3 and was selected a second-team all-star. Piper Hatherall was placed on the OCAA all-rookie team, after having the best field-goal percentage at 53.6.
RAVENS, GEE-GEES WILL MEET AGAIN IN U SPORTS MEN’S BASKETBALL SEMIFINALS
It will be the Capital Hoops Classic, the Bytown Battle and the OUA championship game all over again for the University of Ottawa Gee-Gees and the Carleton University Ravens, but with much higher stakes.
For the fourth time this season, the No. 2 Gee-Gees will confront the No. 3 Ravens Saturday in the semifinals of the U Sports national men’s basketball championship in Halifax.
The Ravens-Gee-Gees semifinal starts at 5 p.m. Eastern Time. At the U Sports national women’s basketball championship in Sydney, Nova Scotia, the No. 1 Ravens will play their semifinal against the No. 4 Saint Mary’s University Huskies Saturday at 4 p.m. Eastern Time.
Carleton has won 10 of the past 11 national men’s championships and 16 of the last 19 national finals. The women’s team captured its first Canadian title in 2018.
The road to the Final Four was smooth for the Gee-Gees on Friday as they shot 53.6 per cent from the field and rolled by the No. 7 University of Winnipeg Wesmen 91-70. The game was interrupted by a fire alarm, which was “caused by construction work that impacted a sprinkler system unrelated to our venue,” according to a U Sports tweet. “There is no safety concern.”
Meanwhile, the Ravens were stuck in traffic and never really saw any open road in their nervous 73-71 win over the No. 6 Université du Québec à Montréal Citadins.
In its season series, the Ravens owned a 2-1 margin over the Gee-Gees. After winning the Capital Hoops Classic 67-61 and the Bytown Battle on Seniors’ Night at home 77-60, the Gee-Gees rebounded with a forceful effort to win the OUA playoff title 79-57.
Guillaume Pepin was named the Gee-Gees’ player of the game for his strong shooting performance Friday in his 26 minutes of play. He hit nine of 11 field-goal attempts, including two of three from three-point range and two of four free throws for 22 points.
The Gee-Gees also had a strong supporting cast as they led at each of the three quarter breaks – 23-11, 42-25 and 69-48.
Kevin Otoo and Cole Newton struck for 15 points each, while Brock Newton was good for 12 points and Josh Inkumsah added 11 points. Otoo scored all his points off five three-pointers and Cole Newton converted six of his 10 field-goal attempts.
Brock Newton also added six rebounds and five assists, while Inkumsah pulled down another five rebounds and contributed two assists.
Drajan Stajic counted only four points, but his strengths were elsewhere – eight rebounds, eight assists and four steals.
The Ravens led 18-17 after the first quarter, but trailed 36-34 at halftime and 57-53 following the third quarter. But the three-time defending U Sports champions outscored the Citadins 20-14 in the final quarter for the narrow victory.
Grant Shephard used a layup to put the Ravens ahead 73-69 with 1:16 left. It would be the Ravens’ final points of the game.
The Citadins pressed as Bahaide Haidara’s field goal narrowed UQAM’s deficit to two points. But in the final 19 seconds, Kevin Civil missed two three-point shots, including one at the buzzer, and Haidara didn’t see his three-pointer drop.
First-team All-Canadian guard Aiden Warnholtz sparked the Ravens with 29 points and six defensive rebounds in 35 minutes. Shephard struck for nine of his 13 field-goal attempts for 18 points and added eight rebounds, two assists and two blocked shots.
Wazir Latiff also scored in double figures for the Ravens with 12 points.
HIGH ACHIEVERS: Stay-Safe Edition
Keeping Local Sport Spirit High During the Pandemic
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 firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter @martincleary.
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