After cruising to an RSEQ championship and securing a berth in the CIS Final 8 for the second consecutive year, the McGill Martlets arrived in Regina, Saskatchewan looking to make some noise and win their first ever Bronze Baby trophy. Although the Martlets fell short of their title aspirations, they proceeded to notch a respectable fifth place finish amongst an extremely talented Final 8 after winning the consolation finals 71-50 over the Ottawa Gee-Gees.
The sixth-seeded Martlets kicked off the tournament Friday evening against the hometown favourite Regina Cougars in front of a raucous crowd. However, it was clear that the Regina’s home-court advantage was a non-factor for McGill, as they remained composed and stretched their lead to six points in the second quarter after a three-pointer by fourth-year guard Diana Ros. Ros was named McGill’s player of the game after compiling a team-high 13 points, five rebounds, and five assists. The Martlets entered halftime with a 28-23 lead.
The contest remained evenly matched in the third frame, with the two teams trading blows en route to a slight 40-39 Regina advantage. However, the fourth quarter was a different story for McGill. They had a few lapses on the defensive end, giving up rebounds and turning the ball over. The Cougars went on a furious 10-0 scoring run halfway through the final quarter to take a 59-48 lead with 2:55 to go. It was too late for the Martlets to mount a comeback, and the game ultimately ended in a 68-53 Regina victory.
The Cougars’ defensive tenacity was problematic for the Martlets all game, as McGill shot just 29.5 per cent from the field, and were dominated on the glass 46-25.
“We had a good start and over the first three quarters, we were basically executing our game plan,” Martlet Head Coach Ryan Thorne said. “Defensively, our help was there … but then they made some adjustments and we tried to adjust, but I don’t think we followed through on what needed to be done. … We just gave up too much in the fourth, defensively.”
The Martlets took to the court on Saturday to face the Fraser Valley Cascades and their star player Kayli Sartori in the consolation semi-finals. Following a pedestrian first quarter, McGill’s offence exploded in the second and third frames, outscoring Fraser Valley 46-24. Unlike the game against Regina, McGill shot 40 per cent from the field, and an impressive 81.5 per cent from the line, which was markedly different from their embarrassing 59.1 per cent free throw shooting the night before. The Cascades never recovered from the scoring onslaught, as the Martlets claimed the 70-52 victory.
McGill dominated thanks to great scoring balance led by veteran forward Anneth Him-Lazarenko and guard Francoise Charest, who both recorded 12 points in the contest. Standout rookie forward Mariam Sylla also tallied a double-double with 11 points and 13 rebounds. She was honoured in the pre-tournament awards ceremonies with the Kathy Shields Award for CIS Rookie-of-the-Year. She’s had a stellar debut year, and was ranked first in offensive rebounds and second in defensive rebounds across the CIS.
Despite the previous night’s loss against Regina, the Martlets never lost focus on their goal: to play on Sunday.
“The reality is that we told the team when we arrived that our goal was to be playing on Sunday, so we haven’t moved away from that,” Coach Thorne said. “There’s the consolation side and the championship side. Either way, when you come into this tournament, you want to be playing on Sunday.”
McGill tipped off against the Ottawa Gee-Gees on Sunday morning in the consolation finals. Early on, it was apparent that the Martlets would dominate the game, as they jumped out to a quick 8-0 lead. By the end of the first half, McGill’s second-year guard Gabriela Hebert had 12 points on 5-5 shooting to give the Martlets a 40-24 lead heading into the half. Hebert would end up recording 19 points on perfect shooting, going 7-7 from the field and 3-3 from three-point range. She was also awarded the Player of the Game.
“Gabriela is a [streak] shooter and you have to let her shoot until she cools off, but she just didn’t cool off today,” Thorne said.
Aside from a third quarter scare, McGill led after every quarter and ended up dispatching the Gee-Gees 71-50. Sylla was solid inside once again with 14 points and 8 rebounds in the winning effort, while Ros tallied six assists. The Martlets finished the weekend in fifth place with the victory.
The real winners of the weekend, however, was the University of Windsor, who took home the CIS championship after beating the favoured Cougars in the gold medal final. Saint Mary’s University won the bronze after beating the University of Calgary Dinos 83-73.
Sunday’s win marked the end of the university career of Him-Lazarenko, a five year team veteran. She recorded 1545 points and 858 rebounds over her career, and has her name cemented in McGill’s history books as the all-time leader in both categories.
The Martlets have a bright future ahead of them, with the majority of this year’s team returning for next season. The added playoff experience has been invaluable, and this year’s dominance once again puts them in prime position to be the RSEQ favourite for the 2013-2014 campaign.