Stingers hope to learn from first experience at nationals in 20 years
A year after finishing the regular season with a 4-12 record, the Concordia Stingers women’s basketball team made it all the way to the U Sports nationals this season. They qualified after losing in the Réseau du sport étudiant du Québec (RSEQ) final against the Laval Rouge et Or, and were eliminated by the McMaster Marauders in the quarter-finals at nationals.
Despite their successful season this year, head coach Tenicha Gittens believes her team needs more depth. “Our bench has been thin all season long, so when we get [to nationals], it does matter,” Gittens said on CJLO Sports on March 11.
Injuries contributed to the short bench this season. Rookie Nelly Owusu was injured before the regular season began, and hasn’t played since, shortening the roster by one. “She was a big part of what we wanted to do,” Gittens said. “She was part of our starting line-up [in preseason games]. I think if she had been healthy throughout the season, she would have been fighting for the rookie of the year.”
Looking ahead to next season, Gittens hopes to increase the team’s roster through recruiting, but doesn’t have any official commitments right now.
“Not having Nelly, this is where it really hurt us, in this postseason,” Gittens added. “To have her in that rotation would have done wonders for us. It would have been a completely different basketball team.”
Gittens wants her team to get stronger physically for next season, to avoid any future injuries. “Physically, I thought we were weaker than most teams out there, so that’s something we have to get better at,” she said. “We have the talent, we’re just inexperienced. There’s ways we can get around that, and it’s just building our mind to sustain [the season].”
The Stingers benefitted from having the U Sports and RSEQ rookie of the year, Myriam Leclerc. She led the RSEQ in points and assists per game, with 18.8 and 4.6, respectively. Leclerc was also named to the U Sports second all-Canadian team, and the RSEQ’s first all-star team.
Guard Caroline Task was also named to the RSEQ first all-star team, and rookie guard Areej Burgonio made the RSEQ all-rookie team.
“[Leclerc] is just a special talent, and every once in a while, you’re lucky enough to get a talent like that in your program,” Gittens said. “She does everything. She’s a shooting point guard, she’s a passing point guard, and she gets buckets at will […]. She’s a tremendous talent and she’s raised everybody’s level of play.”
However, Gittens wants to see Leclerc get stronger over the summer, just like the rest of the team. “She’s been banged up all season long, but she’s one of those players that’s going to play through [injuries],” Gittens added. “She literally has to be broken to stop playing. We saw that in the final against Laval, when she didn’t play the second half because she physically could not go anymore […]. After that final game at nationals, she told me, ‘Coach, I’m going to be tank this summer,’ so she knows what she needs to work on.”
At the national tournament in Toronto, the Stingers lost to McMaster 86-68 in their first game. The Marauders went onto win the national championship, beating the Rouge et Or in the final. In their consolation game against the Acadia Axewomen, the Stingers had a two-point lead after three quarters, but they ultimately lost 86-74.
“It was a disappointing end to the season,” Gittens said. “But we ended the season at nationals, so even though it seems like losing those two games made the season a wash, we have to remember we got to this point. I knew our biggest challenge going in would be the inexperience of it all, and I knew the other teams going had a taste of nationals.”
The Stingers last played in the national tournament in 1999, and started with the seventh seed as a wild card berth. About this year’s trip to nationals, Gittens said: “We enjoyed the banquet and being treated as one of the top eight teams in Canada, because they have to soak all of that in. We watched basketball and just kind of learned from the other teams that kept moving on.”
If they do get back to nationals next season, they’ll know what to do.
“The experience [at nationals] was definitely the biggest takeaway,” Gittens said. “You try to get them to buy in and believe, and kind of sell them on a dream that they can get there. Now they know the path to take.”
Main photo by Gabe Chevalier.