In a COVID-shortened year, both Stingers basketball teams handled the uncertainty like professionals.
*Concordia lost in the RSEQ Final vs. McGill on Saturday. The final score was 48-46.
The Stingers men’s team finished second in the regular season with a 6-6 record. Concordia showed glimpses of a team that could run away with the RSEQ championship at times, but struggled to put everything together for extended stretches, particularly on offense. Defensively, the Stingers were suffocating by staying active on ball handlers, poking balls loose and forcing turnovers. They led the RSEQ in scoring defence, holding their opposition to 63 points-per-game on 38 per cent shooting.
Rastko Popovic, the Stingers’ head coach, always emphasized the importance of defence. In basketball, he explained how offense can occasionally be hard to come by, even if a team is producing open looks at the basket. Players can only optimize their chances of making a basket. Conversely, defence essentially boils down to effort and basketball IQ, elements of the sport that are much easier to control. Concordia instilled their coach’s philosophy on most nights, but struggled with mental lapses that would cost them down the stretch in important games.
In a year filled with uncertainty, Olivier Simon was Concordia’s most consistent player once again. The fifth-year veteran earned first all-star team honours, finishing second in the RSEQ scoring race and tallying a little over 16 points-per-game. In his 11 games played, he showed his versatility beyond scoring, averaging 7.6 rebounds and 1.5 blocks per contest.
In his sophomore season with the Stingers, Sami Jahan built on his 2020 all-rookie campaign by making the second all-star team. Though he struggled with poor shot selection and questionable decision making at times, the Ontario native was never afraid of the moment. Jahan trailed only Simon in scoring for the team, and was Concordia’s primary ball handler when the Stingers offence stalled and was in desperate need for production.
Steve Mbida Abomo, a rookie forward from Cameroon, instantly made an impact for the Stingers on his way to making the RSEQ all-rookie team. He earned Popovic’s trust early in the season, starting in eight of 10 games and averaging the second most minutes on the team. Though Alec Phaneuf didn’t earn any individual honours in his rookie season, his unselfishness on offence mixed with his defensive awareness made the difference in a few competitive games. Alongside Jahan’s scoring instincts, the future is bright for the Stingers backcourt.
*Concordia lost in the RSEQ semifinals vs. UQAM last Wednesday. The final score was 75-68
The Stingers women’s team finished first in the conference with a 9-3 record, winning the regular season title for the first time since 1998-99. Concordia won seven of their last eight, including a 100-44 beatdown of McGill in their final showing. Anything can happen in a best-of-one playoff format however, as the Stingers ran into a well-prepared UQAM team that managed to pull off the upset.
Whereas Popovic distributed the men’s team’s minutes throughout the regular season, women’s head coach Tenicha Gittens stuck to her most reliable weapons for larger stretches of games. Myriam Leclerc, Coralie Dumont, and Caroline Task played over 30 minutes a game for the women’s team, a significant load compared to Simon’s team-leading 27 minutes for the men. Gittens stuck to her veterans through thick and thin, regardless of their play. On the other hand, Popovic constantly shifted the starting lineups and adjusted the minute load depending on the state of the game and who played well.
Despite a slow start to the season by her standards, Leclerc was Concordia’s number one option on offence. Coming off a torn ACL in the 2019-20 season, once her confidence returned it was tough to ignore how crucial she was to Concordia’s success. The third-year guard earned first all-star team honours and was also nominated for the U Sports Tracy MacLeod Award, which recognizes perseverance and courage in the sport. For the season, Leclerc averaged 16 points, 6.3 rebounds, 5.2 assists, and 2.6 steals in nearly 36 minutes per game. She also led the nation in free-throw percentage at 95.9 per cent on 49 attempts. Gittens won Coach of the Year for the team’s strong regular season showing, and Stingers fifth-year guard Task joined Leclerc on the first all-star team. She was the team’s best three-point shooter by a wide margin when you factor in her high volume. Task shot 41.9 per cent on 74 attempts.
Dumont earned second all-star team honours in her third year with the Stingers, imposing her will on offensive boards and drawing fouls at an elite rate. Nelly Owusu was nominated for the U Sports Sylvia Sweeney Award, which is presented to the player who best exemplifies leadership and social commitment in women’s basketball. Finally, centre Serena Tchida made the conference’s all-rookie team after a long-term knee injury kept her sidelined in the 2019-20 season.
Photographs by Matt Garies, Reuben Polansky-Shapiro, Kyran Thicke