Carleton female athlete of the year Heather Lindsay. Photo provided
By Charlie Pinkerton
A pair of Ottawa natives powered the Carleton Ravens women’s basketball team to the first national medal in program history in March, bringing home a bronze from the Canadian university championships in Victoria.
Team-leading scorer and national tournament all-star Catherine Traer and second-team All-Canadian/Carleton female athlete of the year Heather Lindsay led led the Ravens to the historic feat, though the medal they left the west coast with wasn’t the one they wanted.
“Looking back at it, a bronze is a pretty cool accomplishment, but at the time, we were devastated,” signals Lindsay, whose team earlier won its first-ever Ontario University Athletics title and was awarded the #1 seed for the Final 8 tournament. “Our coach said we kind of skipped steps this year. Last year, we didn’t even qualify for the OUA playoffs. This year, we won the OUA championship and we made it to nationals.
“Next year, we’ll have a better understanding of what it’s like being there and we’ll have a better shot.”
Traer was the lone player in Carleton’s lineup who’d previously attended a national championship tournament, and that came as a member of the University of Ottawa Gee-Gees.
Traer comes from a family of Gee-Gees that includes her father, mother and brother, and was initially nervous to join the rival Ravens.
“I walked into the gym upstairs and I was kind of shy,” the political science masters student says of one of her first experiences at Carleton. “A lot of the girls just came towards me and hugged me and were so happy to introduce themselves and shake my hand. From the start, it was great.”
Minus her first game as a Raven though. Thanks to pre-season victories over highly-ranked Regina, Queen’s and McGill, Carleton was ranked 1st in the country, but wound up losing their regular season opener by double-digits to the Algoma Thunderbirds, who finished second-last in the OUA.
“I think it kind of got to our heads. We were so excited about it,” recalls Lindsay, a Nepean High School grad. “It was devastating. We were all so embarrassed.”
Carleton responded with 4 dominant victories, including a 26-point win over #1-ranked McMaster in their final home game before the holidays. That statement win, along with the fire from the Algoma loss, that turned the season around, Lindsay highlights.
Carleton didn’t lose a game for the rest of the regular season. In a win at uOttawa, Traer scored a game-high 20 points in her old gym.
“It’s my comfort zone – playing in that gym, having those fans there – I think they even still had banners with me on them,” laughs the past Louis-Riel Rebelles OFSAA high school champion.
After the Ravens squeezed by McMaster by one point in the OUA semi-final, they took on host Queen’s in the Ontario final in front of roughly 2,000 fans.
“It was so packed,” Traer recounts. “The atmosphere was crazy. Every single time I touched the ball, there were fans screaming, calling me a traitor – I didn’t even hear that at Ottawa.”
With a masterful defensive performance, the Ravens earned their first OUA gold with a 49-41 win. They’d wind up getting the best of Queen’s again with a 53-43 comeback win in the national bronze medal match, which came on the heels a 77-66 quarter-final win over Victoria and a 66-60 defeat to eventual champion McGill in the semis.
The Ravens, with every player on their roster eligible to return for at least one more season, are already hungry to take another shot at the top.
“If we’re good and healthy next year then there’s no reason why we can’t win that championship,” Traer underlines.
Ravens men make it 7 in a row
Surprise, surprise: the Carleton Ravens are the Canadian university men’s basketball champions.
Despite a formidable opponent in the Ryerson Rams – who’d earlier beat Carleton for the Ontario crown – the Ravens came up big in the biggest game, riding improved defence and rebounding to a 78-69 victory on Mar. 12 in Halifax.
It was the Ravens’ seventh consecutive national crown (tying a record set by Victoria from 1980-86) and 13th in the past 15 years, though Carleton coach Dave Smart insists it isn’t championships that drive him.
“That’s not why we do it,” he underlines. “We do it to try to get better and improve day-to-day both on and off the court.”
Smart returned from a year’s sabbatical (where his nephew Rob led the charge) and says it felt like he never left. As per tradition, Smart (as coach of the year) and his Ravens dominated the national major awards.
Connor Wood was player-of-the-year – the seventh year in a row the nation’s capital has owned the award thanks to past winners Mike L’Africain and Johnny Berhanemeskel of the University of Ottawa Gee-Gees, and Ravens Philip Scrubb and Tyson Hinz before that.
Kaza Kajami-Keane was the national tournament MVP, and Ottawa native Eddie Ekiyor was chosen for the all-rookie team.
But all the hardware doesn’t mean much a whole lot to Smart. He’s already looking at getting better the next day.
“You try to win year by year – now we’re into the next year,” explains the Ravens head coach since 1999. “We’re just one of all of the other teams in the country because the season’s over.
“It’s kind of fleeting. One day you win, and the next day, your next season starts.”