With a second-place finish in the Canada West Final Four, the University of Calgary Dinos women’s basketball team is off to Regina for the Canadian Interuniversity Sport Final Eight on March 15–17.
On March 17, 2012, the Dinos shocked the CIS by defeating the number-one ranked University of Regina Cougars in front of a raucous home crowd during the 2011–12 national championships.
The win was significant because the Dinos — eliminated in the first-round of the Canada West playoffs — were only eligible to play in the tournament because they were the host team. The Dinos would finish the tournament in fourth place, but their performance was an unquestionable success.
However, at the start of the 2012–13 season, whatever momentum gained from that win was stalled by the uncertainty of a new head coach, Damian Jennings. This would be the first new head coach for the Dinos in over a decade as Jennings replaced iconic head coach Shawnee Harle, who retired after the 2011–12 season.
To the surprise of many, the Dinos parlayed their stunning upset last season into one of the best regular seasons in program history, finishing with 19 wins and only three losses. The performance of the Dinos earned Jennings CW coach of the year honours and guard Tamara Jarrett earned CW defensive player of the year.
Heading into the CW Final Four, the Dinos were the number-one seed — meaning for the first time since 1991, the Dinos would host the tournament themselves. On March 1, the Dinos rallied from as much as 15 points down to beat the University of Alberta Pandas to advance to the CW finals while earning a berth in the CIS Final Eight by being one of the final two CW teams.
Their opponent in the CW final was the same squad that they had eliminated from the national tournament last season, the U of R Cougars. The Dinos were absolutely stymied n the CW final game on March 2. Held to their lowest point total of the entire season, the Dinos lost 53–37 and left the CW Final Four with an impressive — albeit bittersweet — silver medal.
“We didn’t play our game today,” said Jarrett post-game. “Maybe we let the pressure get to us but we have to get back to the way we play: up-tempo and fast-paced.”
“We are going to get back to the drawing board and make sure we tighten things up,” said assistant coach Jackson Parker. The Dinos were unable to contain the Cougars offence, which is one of the best in the country. “I think the girls worked their tails off on defence today. We held a very good team to 53 and that is something to be proud of.”
After the loss in the CW final, Jennings was quick to point out that the loss was not indicative of the Dinos’s season so far. “We are disappointed today but that is 40 minutes of basketball in amongst a whole year of overachieving,” said Jennings. “Ultimately, we have been together for six months . . . I am just completely proud of what they have done until now and hopefully we can take the lessons we have learned today into the Final Eight.”
Following the loss, the Dinos have had two weeks of practice time to prepare for the CIS finals in Regina. This is valuable time to rest, recuperate and prepare to face off against the best teams in the nation — one of them being the host team and CW champion Cougars.
When describing their season, both Jarrett and Jennings referenced “overachieving” as their preferred nomenclature. The Dinos are clearly embracing the role of the underdog, a niche that served them well in last year’s CIS Final Eight. However, no matter how the Dinos describe their own season, they will undoubtedly be disappointed if they do not improve on last year’s fourth-place finish.
Jennings’s Dinos have earned their spot this year. The Dinos are no longer happy to be included in the discussion of the nation’s top women’s basketball programs, they want to make appearing in the Final Eight a regular habit. There is no better place to make a statement to the country than in the home court of the team that denied the Dinos a CW title.