By Michael Sun
As a new generation blossoms for the Carleton Ravens women’s basketball team, development has become a focal point of Taffe Charles’ coaching.
After an undefeated season last year, in which they won their second straight Critelli Cup and first ever U Sports National Championship, the Ravens lost five graduating veterans, including Ottawa-area players Catherine Traer, Heather Lindsay and Steph Carr.
Twenty-one games into this season, the team is in 3rd place in the OUA East with 16 wins and five losses. There’s also a new group of Ottawa-area players settling into the roles that were left empty.
“Sometimes, your expectations get lowered in terms of what you feel you’re going to do based off experience,” said Charles, the Ravens’ head coach. He’s had to balance a will to win with the necessity of developing younger players this season.
“We’re trying to do both,” he noted. “We’re trying to win a lot of games and keep the process going. That’s challenging”
Second-year players Madison Reid and Emma Kiesekamp have seen major minutes this year, having jumped to the starting lineup. Charles said they both have “all-star” potential.
Reid and Kiesekamp played together at Ottawa Elite (along with rookie Deanna Hinds). Reid said she struggled with the intensity in her first year with Carleton. Having taken over the starting point guard position, she says her newfound success comes from within.
“The coach will give you as much confidence as they can but you’re only going to score if it comes from yourself,” she said. “As long as it’s a mindset thing: ‘Oh, I can score the ball. I should score the ball’.”
Kiesekamp said she’s been constantly learning, having not started competitive basketball until eighth grade.
“I thought I knew what I was doing but you really don’t know basketball,” Kiesekamp said. “Taffe’s taught me so much. University basketball’s just like a different game and it’s nothing like high school, nothing like anything I’ve done before.”
Among the team’s six rookies, four are from the Ottawa-area: Hinds, Mallory Katz, Emma Huff and Navneet Sandhu. It’s no secret that Charles puts an emphasis on recruiting Ottawa-area players.
“The more people we have from Ottawa, that may not be as talented, but (that) we can work with them throughout the summer and the off-season and there’s no stress having to go home because they actually are home,” he said. “That’s a big priority for me.”
The youngsters had a collective breakout game against the Brock Badgers in November, when Huff led the Ravens with 17 points and Hinds and Sandhu scored their first OUA points.
“When Deanna and Nav scored their first baskets, all of us were going crazy and I was like ‘yeah, I know that feeling’,” Kiesekamp recalled. “I’ve been there before. Seeing them go on the court, I can see their nerves and I felt the exact same way. I know exactly how it feels.”
Katz scored her first points on Jan. 12 against Nipissing University. She said she’s been adjusting to the learning curve of university basketball while growing her confidence.
“Being in an environment where there’s girls three, four years older than you, obviously you have to learn to be way more assertive in drills,” she said. “You learn quickly that there’s not a lot of room for error. There’s not a lot of room for you to be not confident. You’re forced to.”
Katz knew Sandhu, Hinds as well Scarborough rookie Sydney Fearon before coming to Carleton.
“Coming in with these rookies I was familiar with helped a lot, just to know that we’re all in this together and we’re all adjusting to this together,” she noted.
The rookies got to be part of their first Capital Hoops as the Ravens lost to the University of Ottawa Gee-Gees 61-52 on Feb. 1. Charles said, despite the limited minutes, the key is how they develop by year three.