The Concordia Stingers women’s basketball team was a win away from the 2018-19 Réseau du sport étudiant du Québec (RSEQ) championship. With the experience gained last season, including at nationals, the team is hopeful it can have another successful season in 2019-20.
“Experience never hurts,” said head coach Tenicha Gittens. “That’s actually something we talked about in our team meeting, about the bar that we set [last season], and the players coming from it last year knowing what we did.”
Gittens explained that it helps when you have players able to share that experience with the rookies coming in.
“It’s nice because as coaches we don’t go through that again, and make them buy in and believe into the process,” Gittens said. “Now the players can do that themselves. That comes from experience. It’s important to have players that are able to talk about that stuff moving forward.”
The Stingers played 12 games this off-season, some in tournaments and others as exhibitions, against teams from other leagues. Gittens, who builds the Stingers’s off-season schedule, said she intentionally built a harder calendar than the previous years.
“The games were intentional,” Gittens said. “I’ve scheduled it with [the thinking of] how we matchup with the other teams in other conferences, which means the top teams. We wanted to play all those heavy hitters, so when we have the [opportunity to face them again], it wouldn’t be something new.”
Such games also helped the Stingers to work on details. For the coaching staff, the off-season games allowed them to see if what was worked on in practice transitioned well into games.
“It’s different in practice, especially by just playing each other,” Gittens said. “The important thing is to see if players understand, can listen when you call timeout, are paying attention to details, [as well as] all the little things we need in the long run to win the championship, not just games.”
This year’s team will present a more mature group than last year, with just two first-year players compared to six in 2018-19. However, Gittens said that last year’s rookies weren’t typical first-year players, which helps even more now.
“[We had] Myriam Leclerc, who was the U SPORTS Rookie of the year and the leading scorer in our conference [in her first season last year], she’s kind of a ‘once in a lifetime’ player who, [in her first season], can affect the game at such a high level,” said Gittens. “We had Areej Burgonio, who does many good things on the defensive end. She exceeded in what we expected her to do towards the end of the season. Nelly Owusu came from Dawson College where she never lost anything. She has that [winning] culture, [so have] Leclerc and Burgonio, who also won championships. We were blessed to have them.”
Gittens pointed out that there are still challenges that come with having new players and a different formation each season.
“It’s getting them to conform to what we do,” Gittens said. “You can have experience and all you want, but every coach is [different]. Basketball is universal, but the way we teach or do things differ.”
In her first season with the team, Leclerc registered 301 points in 16 games, good for almost 30 per cent of the team’s total scored points. She also finished first in the RSEQ for steals and assists, with 40 and 74 respectively. Gittens said she knew what Leclerc could bring to the team before her debut with the Stingers. However, she said she won’t change her coaching approach for this year, now that she saw the impact of Leclerc on the game.
“I actually think she’s been playing better here than in CEGEP,” Gittens said. “[However, we won’t] single anybody out. If that happens, it’s because she has the talent to do so. Everybody eats what we put on the table, [but] nobody’s going to make [their] separate meal. We’re all in it. I always challenge her to be better than she was before, but there’s no difference in how we will coach her. There are still things she can be better at, so it’s our job to make her better at those.”
The Stingers lost four players this off-season. Gittens said that while all those players contributed to the team and will be missed, on paper the Stingers have a lot more talent with this year’s roster.
“That just comes with recruiting,” Gittens said. “You should never be surprised to lose [your veterans], unless someone just comes [at you and says ‘I don’t want to play anymore’]. We know we have those players to replace, so it’s about recruiting and getting on top of it.”
Coming off a 10-6 season with an appearance in the RSEQ championship game and at nationals, the Stingers are facing high expectations for 2019-20. The team is aware of it, and for Gittens, pressure is a good thing when used the right way.
“I don’t really care what other people expect of us,” Gittens said. “We know what our standard is, and what we expect of ourselves. If anything, it’s the pressure we put on ourselves. We [went] to nationals and were one game away from being RSEQ champions, so we want to get that back. Of course there’s a little bit of pressure, but the thing with that is you can’t let it consume you.”
Gittens expects the Stingers to give maximum effort this season. She said the team isn’t worrying about the end of the season because they know what it’s about.
“We know what the process is, so it’s just playing through it and understanding that we’re trying to get better and taking one step closer and closer to what our eventual goal is,” Gittens said. “There’s a lot more parity now in our conference. I know it will be a battle. We expect to be one of the top teams in it, but it’s not going to happen if we don’t compete and challenge ourselves daily.”
The Stingers play their first regular season game of 2019-20 this Saturday at 6 p.m. against the Université du Québec à Montréal Citadins at the Concordia Gym. Last season, the Stingers registered three wins in four matchups against the Citadins, scoring at least 63 points in each of those games.
Archive photo by Gabe Chevalier