By Michael Sun
The Carleton Ravens women’s basketball team won their second straight Critelli Cup against the McMaster Marauders on Mar. 3, capping the team’s first-ever undefeated regular season.
They are ranked number one in Canada, riding a 48-game winning streak against Ontario University Athletics (OUA) competition, but there’s still a bitter memory from the past – a loss that Carleton Ravens centre and Ottawa native Heather Lindsay called “heartbreaking.”
The players said they still think about their U Sports semi-final defeat to the McGill Martlets last March every day, and what could have been after coming in to the national championship tournament ranked No. 1.
“We always think of the loss to McGill in the semi-finals,” fifth-year forward Catherine Traer said. “It’s always in the back of my mind.”
The pain of the loss motivates them, according to fifth-year guard Stephanie Carr.
“Personally, I definitely think about it before every game,” noted the Stittsville native. “Because that’s not something that we want to happen again – ever.”
They have clinched another berth to nationals in Regina on Mar. 8-11 – a shot at redemption.
For six graduating players – including local talents Carr, Lindsay (OUA second-team all-star) and Traer (third-team) – it’s not only their best chance at Carleton’s first-ever national title, it’s also their last.
“Everyone has that (mentality): it’s now or never, literally pretty much do or die,” Carr stated. “I can feel that urgency for sure.”
“I think we’ve all kind of come to that realization…there’s more on the line for us,” Lindsay pointed out. “There’s isn’t another year, there aren’t more games.”
Carleton brought in three key additions this season – rookies Madison Reid of Carleton Place, Emma Kiesekamp of Merrickville and Windsor Lancer transfer Alyssa Cerino – and didn’t lose any graduating players last summer.
Even after winning their first nationals medal (bronze) and first Critelli Cup last year, the Ravens have gone through playoff disappointments before. It’s something Traer, who, in 2016, transferred to Carleton after a four-year career at the University of Ottawa, acknowledged.
“Some of the girls that have been here have shed blood, sweat and tears for three, four, five years even and man, they haven’t had it easy,” added the Chelsea, Que. native. “They had a few rough years…I think we just peaked at the right time.”
The adversity the team has gone through to get to this point isn’t lost on the players.
“I think each person has gone through their own battles,” Carr noted. “I can go one through 13 and they’ve had to make crazy sacrifices to get us to where we are.”
“When I was growing up, I was never the star of the team. I was never the best player but I worked really hard and I just stuck with it and I have coaches that believe in me,” Lindsay noted. “Just believe in yourself and keep working hard as long as you stick with it, (and) you can do anything.”
Lindsay will leave Carleton as the Ravens all-time leader in points, rebounds and blocked shots.
Traer sat out most of the 2014-15 season recovering from injuries, giving her an extra year of eligibility, while Carr, who’s finishing her degree in biomedical engineering, contemplated quitting multiple times because of her struggles balancing school and basketball.
“There were times I was literally about to call (head coach Taffe Charles) and I’m just super glad obviously that I didn’t,” she said.
“The best thing about the fifth-year kids…is the opportunity to win. That’s the biggest thing,” Charles said. “It’s not about individual accolades and it’s only about one thing and that’s (winning it all) at the end.”
The younger players also realize the significance of this season for the departing ones.
“Cause it’s their last year, we just want to make it important,” Reid noted.
“I think we all want this so bad,” Kiesekamp added.
For the graduating players, their basketball futures remain uncertain. Lindsay is working on getting a contract to play in Europe. Traer said she’s unsure of her future while for Carr, the U Sports Women’s Final 8 will be the end of her career.
“I just think ‘This is the year’. It has to be the year,” Traer said. “I think we’re all really hoping it will be. We’ve matured, and we’ve flourished at just the perfect time.”
Carr noted that when she’s “struggling with school or having a hard time with practice, I always think back to how it will all be worth it.”
“Taffe always says, once you win, nothing (else) matters and he just wants to take us to that moment – and I think I need that,” she added. A national title would be “the absolute perfect ending.”
“Obviously, (I’ve had) a great career,” Carr said. “I’ll be happy, but I won’t truly be happy unless we win (the national title).”
NOT TO BE OUTDONE
The Carleton Ravens men’s basketball team matched the women, winning a provincial championship of their own last weekend. On their home court, the Ravens beat the Ryerson Rams 84-58 to claim the Wilson Cup. The Rams had beaten the Ravens in each of the last two OUA championship games. The Ravens men’s team seek their record-extending eighth straight national championship at the U Sports Final 8 tournament in Halifax, which begins Mar. 8.