by Kim Elliott
The Lance Contributor
The Lancer women’s basketball team earned the program’s eighth consecutive trip to the OUA Final Four and a chance to carve their name on the newly-minted Critelli Cup with a pair of playoff victories over the Laurier Golden Hawks and Carleton Ravens this past week.
Head coach Chantal Vallee and the Lancers began their playoff run with an 82-76 win over the Laurier Golden Hawks, defeating them for the third time this season and silencing the OUA West rivalry until next season. That victory earned the sixth-seed Lancers a rematch on the road against the third-seed Carleton Ravens, who scored an lop-sided win over Windsor early in the year. This time the Lancers used a dominant second half performance to come out on top of the rough and tough Ravens 60-48 in Ottawa Mar. 5.
Vallee said she told her players when they first started out this season the team’s realistic goal was to simply be a top-6 team. But now that they have earned their way into the OUA Final Four, their original realistic goal has naturally evolved as well.
“[Carleton] was a very hard win for us. We had to play very hard and play very well in order to beat them,” Vallee said. “I am especially very proud of my veteran players, who have been seen before as role players, but have since grown to become team leaders. I am also impressed by the degree of growth of my rookies, whom I recruited as very skilled student athletes, but have now growing as elite athletic performers.”
Lancer co-captain Roger, who had the games only double-double with 17 points and 10 rebounds said her team knew it would be tough game but never once gave up.
“We knew we could do it as long as we performed, worked hard and followed our game plan,” Roger said. “Our vets definitely had strong performances both offensively and defensively. Yet our rookies Tyra [Blizzard] and Alyssa [Cerino] also came in and gave us some great minutes, so it was a great team effort.”
From the opening tip-off, Carleton’s top-ranked defense was tested and ultimately would not be enough to deny the Lancers on this day. Windsor raced out to a 8-4 lead early in the first quarter before the Ravens fought back with a 6-0 run to stop the bleeding. At the end of a low-scoring first half, the home team held a 26-24 lead. But in the third quarter it was the Lancers who came out gunning offensively with Emily Prevost leading the way inside the paint and Carly Steer dropping 3-point bombs beyond the arch. Roger held court defensively for the Lancers and finished the contest with five blocked shots.
Prevost, also a team co-captain, finished a strong two-way game performance with 17 points and nine rebounds to help secure the vital win. Steer finished the game with 19 points after knocking down five triples.
“We knew it wasn’t going to be an easy game, but we persevered through the bumps and finished strong,” Prevost said. “We’re very excited to have another week of basketball preparation for the Final Four.”
Ravens forward Heather Lindsey was ultimately on the bench with four fouls midway through the fourth quarter and the Lancer’s exploited her absence on the offensive glass. Prevost and Roger exchanged baskets while Steer continued to knock down big shots from the perimeter. After being down by as much as 17 points, the Ravens finally succumbed by 12 points after a season-low 48-point offensive output.
While Lancer starting guards Caitlyn Longmuir and Kaylee Agnostopolous did not put up big numbers, they moved and distributed the ball to their scorers while also keeping the Ravens off the scoreboard. The Ravens shot 25 per cent from the field as a result of Windsor’s defensive pressure and although they converted on 14-15 free throws, none of the Raven’s scored finished in double figures.
In other OUA quarterfinal games, the top-ranked Ottawa Gee Gees handily beat Guelph 55-43, while MacMaster defeated Queen’s 65-55 and the second-ranked Ryerson Rams completed the semi-final brackets by knocking off Western out of the play-offs 80-64. Having upset Carleton, the Lancers will now tip-off against the Rams, who Windsor defeated in an early-season contest at the St. Denis Centre.
“[This] is going to be a big one,” Roger said. “We’re matched up against Ryerson which is great. We beat them our fourth game of the season and we are now a completely different team. Our vets have lots of experience in these types of games so there’s no added pressure, since we have a lot of time to prepare. We just have to show up and get it done.”
The Lancers now return to Ottawa’s Montpetit Hall to battle Ryerson in the first of two semifinal games with McMaster facing the host Gee Gees afterward. The winners of both games facing off in the Critelli Cup final and will have punched their ticket for a trip to the national CIS Final 8 tournament in New Brunswick.
Vallee said she has reminded her young players not to worry about letting down the program, however, as she feels there are much bigger stakes on the line than provincial or national championships. For her players and for herself as a coach.
“What’s more important is that they show up not only as athlete, but as healthy people who have now found success in the most stressful situations,” Vallee said. “Having met all of the other goals and deadlines and even have exceeded the expectations of most – perhaps even their own pre-conceived human limitations. I too must fully show up as a teacher/coach, to embody the lessons I have impressed upon them come game day. For that I need a little prayer from back home at times.”