Winning isn’t easy, but the McGill Martlet basketball program sure makes it look that way. Capping off a fantastic season in which they only lost one game in the RSEQ competition, the Martlets captured their fifth consecutive RSEQ Championship. For Martlets Head Coach Ryan Thorne, this win was different than those in previous years.
“It’s the end of the career for some of these special people to me like Dianna Ros and Gabriela Hebert being here for five years, and every year they’ve won a championship,” Thorne said. “Sometimes you feel like it has to do more with you but it doesn’t. It’s those kids, their commitment, their effort, their work–so definitely this one seems a little more special.”
With the 71-56 victory over the Laval Rouge et Or in Saturday’s final, the team heads to the CIS National Championships next week at the University of New Brunswick as the No. 1 seed. They’ll be looking to improve on last year’s silver medal, which is currently the best finish in school history. Fans and the McGill community are starting to notice that a powerhouse program plays in Love Competition Hall: The semifinal game against the Concordia Stingers broke the attendance record for a women’s basketball game at McGill; the final saw 657 fans in attendance, 70 more than in McGill’s 85-60 win against Concordia, setting a new record.
Headlining the weekend for McGill were bigs Alex Kiss-Rusk and Mariam Sylla, who dominated both the Stingers’ and Rouge et Or frontline, as they have this entire season. Both averaged upwards of 20 points and 10 rebounds per game for the weekend. Although McGill’s one-two punch of Kiss-Rusk and Sylla is arguably the best forward combo in the country, Thorne cites the team’s resilience as its greatest asset, given the injuries to rotation players Gladys Hakizimana and Jen Silver.
“Our biggest strength has always been our depth, but with our injuries right now [it’s] probably just our cohesiveness and the fact that we play well as a unit,” Thorne said. “There’s a lot of love on this team and they want to win for each other. There’s not that individualistic style of play […] it’s what can I do to help my team win and I think that’s a huge advantage.”
The Martlets showed this willingness to sacrifice for the good of the team in both of its games over the weekend. Against Concordia, the team was down 20-12 in the first quarter before battling back and winning the three quarters that followed. Against Laval, the Martlets found themselves down at the end of the first half. The Rouge et Or, who blew out the UQAM Citadins 67-48 to get to the final, proved to be a worthy opponent and forced the hosts to dig deep.
When the Martlets had their back against the wall, they turned to Sylla. As she has done throughout her career, the senior guided the team to victory, scoring 10 of her 22 points in a pivotal third quarter. Although Sylla is nearing the end of her career, the journey is far from over.
“It was a really emotional game, especially at the end, because it was probably my last game at McGill,” Sylla said. “At the start I think we didn’t have the start we wanted because we were stressed and our shots weren’t falling, but we kept fighting. I’m really, really proud of my team and I’m really lucky to be a part of this group [….] Right now, we’re just going for that National [Championship] we didn’t get last year, that’s the goal now.”