It was a great night to be a Concordia Stinger on Saturday.
A sold out gymnasium was electric and loud. The team was fired up and the end result was a centre court celebratory team dance off after the game, as Concordia enjoed its second consecutive RSEQ title that will send the Stingers to the national championship tournament in Halifax as the No. 3 seed in the eight-team playoff.
Concordia left nothing to chance on Saturday, blowing out the UQAM Citadins in what was perhaps Concordia’s best performance of the season at the best possible time.
“We were better prepared tonight mentally and defensively we were great,” said Concordia coach John Dore. “I think tonight we were able to dictate the tempo of the entire game. We sped things up when we wanted to run, and slowed things down when we wanted to.”
This is Dore’s third trip to nationals in the last five years and his experience no doubt helped in preparing the team before the game. “I just told the guys this is what we work for all year,” he said. “I told them to just look around, have fun and get ready to play.”
UQAM had upset a higher seeded McGill team earlier in the week, but couldn’t muster anything against Concordia.
“Give Concordia credit, there’s 40 minutes in a game and they played 41 tonight,” said Citadins coach Olga Hrycak.
Concordia’s swarming defence held UQAM to just 18 points in the first two quarters, allowing the Stingers to take a commanding 12-point lead. While the Stingers have let their guard down at times this season and allowed teams back into games, Saturday was a consistent effort from the opening tip-off that finished with an exclamation mark when Concordia outscored the Citadins 27-13 in the fourth quarter. The moment peaked when Evens Laroche finished an alley-oop that brought the sold out Concordia gym to its feet.
One of the loudest ovations came in the final minutes of the game when Dore subbed out his fifth-year players, guard Decee Krah and forward James Clark, who walked off their home floor for the final time in Stingers uniforms.
“It was a great feeling,” said Clark. “With the sold out crowd and the support, it was something I’m going to cherish forever and it was just a great night and I’m definitely going to miss it.”
Dore also acknowledged the special careers of both players after the game.
“I appreciate those guys,” he said. “They’ve been not only good basketball players, but good citizens. They’re both graduating this year and I’m very proud of them. They’re making their third trip to nationals in five years and not a lot of athletes get that opportunity.”
The tournament gets underway this weekend in Halifax. Concordia will be in tough as they face St. Francis Xavier University in the first round at 7:15 p.m. on Friday. While Concordia has the higher seed in the tournament, StFX was above the Stingers in the CIS rankings for the entire season. StFX has already beaten Concordia once this year and will be playing in front of a home crowd in Halifax. The road to a championship is also likely to go through perennial powerhouse Carleton, who went undefeated this season.
It will be a difficult road to glory for the Stingers in Halifax. Fortunately for them though, difficult and impossible are not the same thing.