Though the result may be the same as last season, the circumstances are much different for the University of Calgary women’s basketball team after the Canadian Interuniversity Sport Final Eight wrapped up in Regina on March 17. The Dinos finished fourth after being defeated by the St. Mary’s University Huskies in the bronze-medal game — the same finish as the 2011–12 season when the Dinos lost to the University of Ottawa Gee-Gees in Calgary.
However, the end to this season has a much different feel than last year. The 2011–12 Dinos only qualified for the Final Eight because they were the host team — this year the Dinos qualified by placing second in the Canada West finals, losing to the University of Regina Cougars on March 2. The 2011–12 Dinos were a Cinderella team that were lucky just to be in the tournament; this year, the Dinos earned their spot and competed stride-for-stride with the best programs in the nation.
The quarter-final game was against the Carlton University Ravens on March 15. The Ravens were ranked fourth heading into the tournament and finished the regular season with a record of 15–5 in Ontario University Athletics. The Ravens qualified for the Final Eight by losing to the number-one ranked Windsor University Lancers in the finals of the OUA tournament. Heading into this year’s CIS tournament, the Ravens’s best finish in the CIS finals was seventh in 2011.
The Dinos struggled finding any sort of offensive rhythm in the early stages of the first quarter against the Ravens, taking nearly five minutes before scoring their first points and almost seven minutes before their first field goal. The early performance of the Dinos’s offence was reminiscent of the CW finals against the Cougars where the Dinos were frustrated all game and only scored 37 points. Throughout the early part of the first quarter, the Dinos missed layups and inside jump shots, but the game remained close thanks to some timely free-throw shooting. Late in the first quarter, the Dinos were able to put together nine-consecutive points and jumped out to a 16–12 lead at the end of the quarter.
The second half started off strong for the Dinos, continuing a 16–3 run that extended their lead to as many as 12. The Dinos looked comfortable on offence throughout the second quarter, returning to the up-tempo style that had made them successful throughout the regular season. The half ended with the Dinos leading 34–25 and shooting 47.8 per cent in the half.
The Ravens came out strong in the third and the Dinos saw their lead slip in the early minutes. The Dinos were able to stop the bleeding after some exceptional three-point shooting from guard Ashley Hirons and forward Jessica Franz. The Dinos’s lead was cut to five points and the team entered the final frame up 45–40.
The final quarter was exceptionally close with both teams trading clutch shots. Point guard Kristie Sheils hit two consecutive three-pointers — finishing the game with four threes in total — and was crucial in closing out the game for the Dinos. The Dinos won their quarter-final game 59–51 despite being out-rebounded by the Ravens 55–34 — with 30 of Carleton’s rebounds coming on offence.
After the quarter-final, Sheils explained the slow start the Dinos experienced on offence: “We were trying to get the ball inside and that wasn’t working. We started missing a lot of our layups and we had to rely on threes in the end.”
The inability to move the ball effectively inside would prove costly for the Dinos as the tournament wore on.
The win against the Ravens meant that the Dinos booked a date against two-time defending CIS champions and the number-one ranked Windsor University Lancers on March 16. The Lancers entered the tournament winning 17-straight games and beat the Gee-Gees 56–46 in their quarter-final game of the CIS tournament. Windsor entered the game with the number-one ranked offence and defence in the CIS and were led by six-foot-three guard Jessica Clemençon, a former CIS player of the year.
In the first quarter, the Dinos were solid defensively and were able to contain the Lancers for the most part, but the size and strength of the Lancers allowed them to score frequently from inside the key. Overall, the Dinos played well early on even though the Lancers led 18–16 after the first quarter.
The Lancers began to pull away in the second quarter by moving the ball towards their stronger inside players and jumped ahead by as many as 10 points. The Dinos trailed 49–39 at the end of the half, which marked the most points allowed in a half by the Dinos all season. In the first half, the Lancers also made four three-point shots on eight attempts and shot 55.9 per cent from the field.
In the third quarter, the Dinos suffered a huge loss when Sheils suffered a gruesome knee injury after taking a shot and had to be carried off the court by training staff. The loss of Sheils, coupled with the persistent offence of the Lancers extended the deficit to 17 by the end of the third quarter.
With the injury to Sheils and forward Alex Cole fouling out of the game, the Dinos proved to not be as deep as the Lancers in the second half. Led by Clemençon — who finished the game with 21 points — the Lancers pulled away from the Dinos and dashed their hopes of a gold medal. The final score of the semifinal was 82–65 and the Dinos were off to the bronze-medal game.
The loss was the second-straight semifinal loss against the Lancers in the CIS Final Eight — they defeated the Dinos in the 2012 semifinals in Calgary. The loss was the first meeting against Windsor for head coach Damian Jennings, who is in his first year with the Dinos. After the semifinal loss to the Lancers, Jennings addressed some of the challenges of playing at such a high level with relatively little time with his players.
“Most teams have had their fourth- and fifth-year players with one single coach,” said Jennings. “The challenge for my fourth- and fifth-year players was to deal with a new guy and new systems for only six months. To make it to the Final Eight and then the final four — I am particularly proud,” said Jennings.
The bronze-medal match placed the Dinos against the second-ranked SMU Huskies — the champions of the Atlantic University Sport conference. The Huskies also had the 2012–13 CIS player of the year Justine Colley who was guarded by CW defensive player of the year Tamara Jarrett throughout the bronze-medal game. Previous to this meeting, the Dinos had played the Huskies this pre-season on Oct. 6 in Halifax and lost 68–79. The last time that the Dinos women’s basketball team medaled at the CIS championships was in 2001 with a bronze medal. The bronze-medal game on March 17 was the final game for fifth-year players Franz, guard Megan Schaufele and Cole.
The Dinos came out flying in the first quarter, starting the game with impressive ball movement and an early 12-point lead. Incredibly, after being carried off in the semifinal and entering the court on crutches, Sheils was dressed for the bronze- medal final.
The Dinos took a seven-point lead into the second quarter but began to see their lead slip away after Colley scored six-consecutive points for the Huskies. The Huskies were able to out-rebound the Dinos in the second quarter and were able to out-score the Dinos 21–13, giving the Huskies a two-point lead heading into halftime. Colley scored 17 points in the first half alone and was proving impossible to guard.
The Dinos were down by 10 heading into the final frame and the combination of the Huskies three-point shooting and Colley’s dynamic scoring ability continued to be a nightmare for the Dinos defence. The Dinos were able to claw their way back to within three points thanks to some determined team defence and some key finishes from Schaufele, Jarrett and Franz.
The conclusion of the game was thrilling with each team trading key baskets and the Dinos pressing hard on every possession. Jarrett played some of her best offensive basketball of the season in the fourth quarter but it would not be enough for the Dinos. The Huskies finished the game shooting 41 per cent from three-point range and hit key threes late in the game to sink the Dinos. Colley finished the game with an astounding 33 points and the Huskies defeated the Dinos 83–75.
In her final game as a Dino, Franz collected 23 rebounds — the best individual rebounding performance at the U of C since 1991 — and added 19 points.
“You definitely want to leave a good legacy,” said Franz. “No one expected us to be here and be in the top end of the bracket in nationals . . . I am just so proud of the direction that [Jennings] has taken the program. I could not be more proud of this team.”
After the loss, Jennings said the program would continue to improve.
“We have recruited well in the back-court and we have six months of new teaching and learning. I feel very confident about the group being able to adapt,” said Jennings. The loss was an obvious setback for the Dinos but Jennings said the broader transformation of the basketball program was his chief concern.
“Right now, we are trying to create a change of culture more than anything else,” said Jennings. “We are trying to create a new performance model at the university that people are buying into in a more holistic sense — not just basketball but how they look after themselves as athletes.”
Jennings accomplished a great deal in his first season as a head coach but is more concerned with the overall transformation of the U of C and its basketball philosophy. The women’s team was easily one of the most remarkable team performances of the entire athletic year, surprising many and finishing in the top four of the country. Given more time to teach and fine-tune, the future of women’s basketball at the U of C looks very bright.