The McGill Martlets (6-0) cruised to back-to-back wins over the Laval Rouge et Or (1-5) last week, winning at both Love Competition Hall and Laval’s Centre PEPs. At home Thursday evening, the Martlets claimed a 52-34 victory spearheaded by sophomore Mariam Sylla’s 18 points and nine rebounds. Helene Bibeau added 17 points, and Françoise Charest tallied six assists as the Martlets managed to stay undefeated in the season.
Dating back to last season, McGill has now won 13 straight games against RSEQ opponents. After finishing in fifth place at the CIS Final 8, the team has stuck with its young core of Sylla, Dianna Ros, and Gabriela Hebert, while leaning on veteran talents Bibeau and Charest to lead the way. However, the Martlets also brought in a number of new pieces this year, including Montreal native Jennifer Silver and University of Massachusetts transfer student Carolann Cloutier. So far this season, Silver and Cloutier have managed to seamlessly integrate themselves into the lineup.
“[Both of them] have been good additions to our program,” said Head Coach Ryan Thorne.
Although McGill has managed to jump out to early leads to begin games so far this season, the team struggled to start with the same urgency against Laval on Thursday evening. Sloppy play resulted in a number of early turnovers by both teams, leading to a narrow 24-16 edge for McGill at halftime. However, the Martlets caught fire in the second half, with Bibeau converting four of her five three-pointers after the break. Sylla went a perfect 6-6 at the free throw line to help the Martlets pull away from the Rouge et Or and put the game away in the fourth quarter.
“[Bibeau] allows us to stretch the defence inside, so she allows us to bring their bigger players to the perimeter,” said Thorne. “Mariam right now is playing like our best player. She’s a great perimeter scorer [….] And it’s just understanding when to attack and when to defer to someone else. When she does that I think that she’ll be really outstanding.”
The Martlets currently lead the RSEQ division by four points, with UQAM and Concordia trailing in second and third place respectively. McGill has blown out its division opponents so far this season, winning games by an average of 14 points. The team has shown a natural ability to play together; at this point in the season, the new player acquisitions have meshed seamlessly with the members of last year’s team.
“The players know each other well,” Thorne said. “They spend a lot of the time in the off-season playing together, going to little tournaments, and having fun together. There’s a pretty good chemistry—they genuinely like each other on this team. That puts them in a position where they will do whatever needs to be done to make sure the other one’s successful.”
However, the team is currently ranked seventh in the nation, and in order to make a real run at the CIS Championship, the Martlets will have to learn from their mistakes from the Final 8 last year.
“The biggest thing was understanding that we can play with anyone in the country,” Thorne said. “Our fifth-year players [Charest and Bibeau] coming back and understanding what they need to do to be more successful and how to manage and lead this team [….] We know that in this conference we’re pretty strong, and that we just need to make sure that we take care of the details of the game throughout if we want to be successful [….] I think that the experience we gained at nationals we need to carry forward to every game we play here in Quebec.”
After squeaking out a 57-53 win against Laval on Friday—by far their closest match of the season—the Martlets will take a short break from league play before facing off against the Concordia Stingers on Jan. 23 at Concordia Gym.