Season recaps: Stingers basketball teams battle to the bitter end

In a COVID-shortened year, both Stingers basketball teams handled the uncertainty like professionals.

Men’s basketball

*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. 

Concordia guard/forward Oge Nwoko (14) prepares to inbound the ball during the RSEQ semi-final match between Bishop’s and Concordia on Wednesday, March 23, 2022. REUBAN POLANSKY SHAPIRO/The Concordian

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 guard Caroline Task (7) led the Stingers in scoring with 17 total points in the RSEQ semifinals on March 23, 2022. KYRAN THICKE/Concordia Stingers

Women’s basketball

*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 


McGill 58-57 Concordia: Nothing comes free for Stingers in George Lengvari Cup

The Concordia Stingers men’s basketball team fall just short of handing the undefeated McGill Redbirds their first loss of the regular season

The third annual George Lengvari Cup was a back-and-forth affair that will surely be remembered in the storied Concordia/McGill basketball rivalry. Despite the narrow loss, the Stingers can keep their heads up high knowing they were the better club for most of the night, in a matchup against the tenth ranked team in Canada. 

“The game plan was to really hone in defensively and I think we did pretty well,” said Stingers head coach Rastko Popovic after the game. “If you look at the final score, McGill had 58 points but they needed a big run at the end to get there. On most days we should come away with the win with the defence alone but our offence really struggled down the stretch.”

Ahead of Thursday’s matchup, McGill’s unselfish offence posed too many challenges for their opposition on most nights, particularly from three-point range. Led by their fifth-year guard Jamal Mayali, who came into the anticipated contest averaging an impressive 19.2 points-per-game, McGill coming away with the victory felt like a formality, despite Concordia occupying the second seed in the conference. On Nov. 11, the last time the rivals met, McGill convincingly won by a comfortable 15-point margin.

Concordia guard/forward Oge Nwoko (14) shoots the ball during the RSEQ Regular Season match between McGill and Concordia on Thursday. REUBEN POLANSKY-SHAPIRO

Concordia’s first possession of the contest was a beautifully drawn-up play that featured Stingers rookie guard Alec Phaneuf receiving a couple of off-ball screens in motion, which resulted in an open look from three-point range. The first-year standout assertively rose up for the jump shot like a veteran and hit nothing but net, an early sign from the Stingers that they weren’t going to back down from the favoured Redbirds.

The first half ended with Concordia leading 28-21. On defence, the Stingers were exceptional, swarming McGill’s ball handlers and forcing them into difficult, contested looks from midrange. The Redbirds made one three-pointer on ten attempts from distance, and the RSEQ’s leading scorer Mayali didn’t register a single point through 20 minutes. 

Offensively, Concordia was producing quality shot opportunities for the most part, and the team’s third-year guard Sami Jahan was able to bail the Stingers out of rough possessions by making a number of tough layups and a crowd-pleasing rainbow heave from way beyond the three-point arc. Jahan would go on to lead the Stingers in total points with 14, to go along with his three assists. 

“Back in November when we played against McGill, we got blown out. Today, we came and were the better team for 30 minutes, but we just couldn’t pull it together for the last 10 minutes. Even though we lost, we’ve come a long way and made big strides as a group,” Jahan said. 

The Stingers missed five free throw attempts in the opening quarter, which would have nearly doubled their first half lead, had they fallen. Ultimately, those misses would prove to be costly when McGill mounted their 18-point comeback late in the third quarter. 

Once the Redbirds’ looks from three started to drop, the floodgates opened and the atmosphere in the gymnasium completely shifted towards the home team. Concordia’s offence and defence simultaneously collapsed as the pressure escalated, and McGill’s raucous crowd made it difficult for the Stingers to establish themselves back into the game. Even an emphatic reverse dunk by the Stingers best performing regular season player Olivier Simon early in the quarter wasn’t enough to shift the momentum. 

Despite the disastrous fourth quarter, Concordia had possession of the ball in the dying seconds of the match. With the game in his hands, Jahan drew a shooting foul on McGill’s Cameron Elliot in isolation. He would go on to make one of his free throws, and the Redbirds went into their ensuing timeout with signs of life. A Concordia foul on McGill’s inbound play would award Quarry Whyne a trip to the free throw line, where he would go on to knock down a pair to ice the game for the Redbirds. 

“All the training and reps in the gym in practice were for moments [at the free throw line] like that. I felt comfortable, but the first one just didn’t fall my way. It’s part of the game and the process, but I will always be ready for those moments,” Jahan said. 

To say the Stingers lost solely due to their lack of precision at the charity stripe wouldn’t be doing the competitive game justice. The truth is, Concordia outworked McGill through three quarters, and showed a greater desire to win that was evident in their hustle plays throughout. But they became lackadaisical in their approach for a brief stint, and a great team like McGill will always take an inch and never look back.

“It’s almost like we were just hoping for the time to run out instead of taking full control when we were ahead. Our guys need to know that we’re as good as McGill and we know we can beat them,” Popovic said. 

Luckily for the Stingers, the playoff stakes couldn’t have been lower, as the RSEQ standings have already been decided for both teams.

Though the Stingers will have to wait until next year to recapture the Lengvari Cup, Concordia will have another opportunity to upset McGill for bragging rights at home on Saturday afternoon.

Photograph by Reuben Polanski-Shapiro


A long-awaited return to competition for Concordia’s basketball program

The extended pause to the RSEQ regular season was a burdensome time for the Stingers, but has given the teams additional time to fix issues in their game

On Monday, the RSEQ announced the resumption of university games as of Feb. 14, following Premier Legault’s press conference last Tuesday. Before the return of the regular season, here’s what you need to know about the Stingers basketball teams. 

Women’s Basketball

Concordia finished their November slate of games with an underwhelming 2-2 record after a promising start to the season, which saw the Stingers beat McGill and Bishop’s in commanding fashion. Head coach of the women’s team Tenicha Gittens knows her players have the ability and talent to win on any given night, but has preached consistency above all else over the extended break. 

“The first four games were like a rollercoaster ride for us,” Gittens said. “It’s one thing to be good, […] but we’ve been working on finding the competitive fire and sense of urgency from the jump. The RSEQ is well balanced, so we really need to bring our A game every single night.”

“Right now, we have this bitter taste in our mouth from the way things ended [in November], so it’s about keeping that level of urgency throughout.” 

In some ways, the long layoff from competition was a blessing in disguise for the Stingers. For the players with high-usage rates like Caroline Task, Coralie Dumont, and Nelly Owusu, the break allowed their bodies to recover for a looming playoff push.

Several players were coming off injuries to begin the season, and used the time to properly adjust to the in-game intensity. Johannie Lamoureux is a first-year guard who has been out of the lineup this season due to concussion protocols, but should now be getting significant minutes according to Gittens. Serena Tchida is another freshman who will need time to bounce back from her past knee setbacks.

Gittens praised the entire team for the dedication they’ve shown during the hiatus, but emphasized two players in particular.

“Myriam [Leclerc] is just a naturally gifted player. She can average 14 points [per game] and people think she’s okay, but really she can average about 22 [points per game]. We’re starting to see glimpses of that and that’s really exciting,” Gittens said.

“Areej Burgonio gets the whole team going,” Gittens added. “She’s exciting, she’s our heart, our energy.”

Men’s Basketball

Much like the women’s squad, the Stingers men are looking to improve on their 2-2 record. In discussing the first four games of the year, men’s basketball head coach Rastko Popovic was proud of the way the team defended down the stretch.

“Our game against Bishop’s [on Nov. 18], we kept them under 50 points, which isn’t something you see often in our league when you see some scores in the 80s and 90s,” Popovic explained. “In practice, we spend a lot of time working on our defence, because we can’t really control our offence, but what we can control is how hard we move our feet and rebound.”

At the end of the day, defence can only take a team so far, and the team’s offence, particularly their three-point shooting, will eventually need to follow suit. Through four games, the Stingers have gone 23-106 on their attempts from beyond-the-arc, which come out to a little under 22 per cent. Popovic was quick to point out that many of the looks were wide-open, and said it’s simply on the players to knock them down. 

“Olivier Simon has been very dominant for us, but we need to do a better job of supporting him outside the paint by knocking down our threes,” Popovic said. “If we can do that, the entire offence will open up for us.”

Simon has led the Stingers in scoring and total rebounds in three out of four games played so far, demonstrating his importance to Concordia’s system as their go-to guy. Popovic was also impressed with his rookie guards Alec Phaneuf and Olivier Koumassou Bernier, who earned their spot in the rotation. Sami Jahan had a slow start in his sophomore year considering his standout rookie status in the 2019-20 season, but the Stingers coach expects the point guard to bounce back from his shooting slump in the second half of the season. 

Popovic would have liked his team to have had more time to practice together, but said he’s happy to see his players get a chance to do what they love again.

“With only eight games when things start back up, it’s going to be like a mini season where every game will become even more crucial for standings in the playoffs,” Popovic remarked. “It’s exciting and if we can improve our offence, I think we’ll be a very fun team to watch.”


Photograph by Catherine Reynolds


Championship doesn’t change men’s Stingers basketball team’s season approach

For the first time since 2011-12, the Concordia Stingers men’s basketball team will start its Réseau du sport étudiant du Québec (RSEQ) season as league defending champions. Yet, the mindset remains the same for the Stingers.

For head coach Rastko Popovic and his team, expectations that come with being the defending champions are more of a cliché in sports.

“We still try to recruit the best players we can,” Popovic said. “We still spend time in the gym with our players to try to make them better. There’s no guarantee we’ll win again this year. We’ll obviously do our best to do so, but it’s a new season and a new challenge.”

Popovic said that last year’s success is the result of many years of work. He explained that some of the players who won last year are the same who went through the pain of losing a semi-final and a final game before winning the championship. Yet, new players will be at their debuts with the team this season and won’t have lived last year’s success.

“It’s part of the process in sports,” Popovic said. “You hear it a lot now with many professional sports team saying to trust the process. If anybody could just do something by snapping their fingers, it would be that easy to coach in any sport, not just basketball.”

Seven months after their championship and nationals participation, fourth-year player Olivier Simon said he and the team finally had time to reflect on what last year meant to them. Yet, he said the focus was turned to this season in a matter of time.

“We worked hard this summer in order to recreate [our accomplishments of last season this year],” Simon said. “Yes, it’s fun to win a championship, as you celebrate for a week or two, but after that you just want to get more. I knew [last season] it wasn’t my last year, so my mindset was more about winning more championships. Of course we took the time to reflect on our season. To get that win and see our efforts pay off was the best feeling we’ve had for a while.”

Some of those players will have bigger leadership roles in 2019-20, as the Stingers lost important pieces this summer, including team captain Ricardo Monge. In his final year with the Stingers, the point guard was named the MVP in Quebec university men’s basketball conference and received all-Canadian honours.

Simon said that after the experience he and the other returning players acquired, he wanted to be more of a leader for this season. The players might have to earn their next championship, but the experience he acquired is invaluable.

“Now I know what’s needed to [win the RSEQ title and go to nationals],” Simon said. “Guys just need to follow and be on board with us because we know what it takes to win. For me, it’s just to bring that energy and effort every day in the gym.”

For Sami Ghandour, also entering his fourth year, last season served him as a motivation this past off-season. Ghandour said that despite winning the RSEQ championship, the loss at nationals hurt and pushed him to get better.

“In my first year, we didn’t get past semi-finals,” Ghandour said. “In my second year, we reached the final, but lost. In my third year, we won, but lost in the first round [at nationals]. We saw that we were good for the RSEQ, but once on the national court, the level [of play] was different. Even after winning all that, it hurts when you lose like that at nationals.”

With the season set to start next month, Popovic said there’s a long process to follow before thinking about championship goals for 2019-20 campaign. He said it’s a long season, and there are many games to win before those in the RSEQ playoffs.

“Yes, we can talk about [the fact that] our goal is to go to nationals, but we don’t get there by just saying it,” Popovic said. “We still have a lot of things to work on before [coming to this moment]. We’re trying to get better one day at the time. We’re trying to get better this weekend than [we were the previous one]. That’s how we see progress, with small steps to get to where we want to get.”

Ghandour said the team wants to win consecutive championships. However, he explained that with this new season, the Stingers and all teams in the league will start at the same point.

“We are the defending champions, which makes people even more hungry to play us,” Ghandour said. “[We] need to keep working, and keep [our] feet on the ground. [We] want to win the championship every single year.”


Photos by Britanny Clark


Ricardo Monge is closing his Stingers career

Championship in his last season is bittersweet for the point guard

A month ago, Ricardo Monge led the Concordia Stingers men’s basketball team to the Réseau du Sport Étudiant du Québec (RSEQ) title. He had a 19-point performance over the UQAM Citadins, concluding his career in the league with a first championship.

Few players can say they concluded their career by winning a championship. Monge’s last season with the Stingers is hard to describe.

“It was definitely amazing,” Monge said. “[There were] a lot of ups and downs, but in the end, we were able to achieve our goal and there is no better feeling. It’s also bittersweet because it was potentially my last year playing competitive basketball.”

Rastko Popovic (left) instructs Monge during the RSEQ final on March 2. Photo by Mackenzie Lad.

Monge began his career with the Stingers in 2014-15, when he played 13 games. The Gatineau native said he was ready for the challenge of playing university basketball after three years at John Abbott College.

“I came in with a class of eight rookies, so there was a lot of playing time competition,” Monge said. “The biggest adjustment was probably the physical aspect of the game.”

When head coach Rastko Popovic, recruited Monge, he saw a hardworking player and a great teammate.

“He was coachable and had a great attitude on the floor,” Popovic said. “He was always positive, and these are the kinds of things we’re looking for at the point guard position.”

The point guard averaged just over 15 points/game this season. Photo by Mackenzie Lad.

Monge’s development has been impressive during his five years at Concordia. The point guard finished every season with more points than the last, as he went from 106 in his first to 248 in his last. Monge had few expectations when he started at Concordia and simply focused on his game.

“I just came prepared to outwork everyone else and earn my minutes,” Monge said. “I was also lucky that the starting position [was good for his height], so I was on the floor a lot as a rookie. It helped my development as a player.”

Popovic said he always told Monge that he had the work ethic to have these kinds of results. The head coach explained that Monge is committed and wants to get better every season.

“He’s motivated and that’s something huge,” Popovic said. “He’s not somebody we push every day to be in the gym. He arrived here as a young point guard, and ended up leaving [with] a lot of awards. He had a tremendous career here at Concordia, and I am so proud of everything he’s done so far.”

After nominations to the all-rookie team in 2015 and the second team all-star in 2018, Monge earned RSEQ honours for a third time this season. He received all-Canadian honours and was the MVP in Quebec university men’s basketball conference this year.

“I don’t think anyone out there is playing for awards, but it’s always nice to be recognized for your sacrifices,” Monge said. “I think the success came from years of work and all the confidence that the coaching staff and my teammates had in me.”

According to Popovic, these are well-deserved awards for someone, who, five years ago, arrived at Concordia with low expectations. The head coach said that Monge will be an amazing role model for Stingers players.

“Everything he does, he does it well,” Popovic said. “He has a tremendous story, and I think everybody needs to know about how great it is. I just call myself lucky to have been his coach for the last five years, as he also helped me to be a better coach and I’m so thankful for that.”

Main photo by Mackenzie Lad.


Stingers experience nationals for the first time

Losses to Ryerson and Saint Mary’s give Concordia vision for next season

In their first U Sports nationals appearance since 2012, the Concordia Stingers men’s basketball team lost both of their games in Halifax, Nova Scotia. In their quarter-final game against the Ryerson Rams, the Stingers lost 87-47; the Saint Mary’s Huskies beat them 84-67 in a consolation game.

“It was a first experience for all of us at nationals, players and coaches included,” said head coach Rastko Popovic on CJLO Sports on March 11. “We knew it was going to be a different experience since it’s something we never lived before. You can’t just imitate walking into a big [arena] like that.”

Adrian Armstrong shoots a free throw during the RSEQ final. Photo by Mackenzie Lad.

Dalhousie University hosted the nationals at the Scotiabank Centre, which has a seating capacity of over 10,000 people. The Stingers qualified for nationals after winning the Réseau du sport étudiant du Québec (RSEQ) championship on March 2.

In their opening game, the Stingers played a strong Rams team that lost in the final last year, but won bronze this year. The Rams had five players 6’7 or taller, while the Stingers’s tallest players—Aleks Simeunovic, Olivier Simon, and Matthis Guerut—are all 6’7.

Popovic said he spoke to other coaches before playing Ryerson, and they all said the Rams do a good job at contesting inside shots. The Stingers’s game plan was to shoot three-pointers, but they went 3/36 from three-point range, which hurt them on the scoreboard.

“We knew we were going to have to make some three-point shots to stay in the game,” Popovic said. “Early in the game, it didn’t help that we fell behind 12-0. We had some great looks, but they just didn’t fall down.”

Adrian Armstrong, who made a team-high 56 three-point shots this season, went 2-12 in the game against Ryerson. The Stingers did a better job with their threes in their second game, going 12/32, but Saint Mary’s did better with their overall shooting.

“It was a great learning experience, but we’re disappointed with the results,” Popovic said. “Now we have a good idea of what it takes to make it to the next level.”

Near the end of their game against Saint Mary’s, Popovic subbed off fifth-year guards Garry Merrisier and Ricardo Monge for the last time in their Stingers careers. Popovic said it was an emotional moment for the whole team.

“We see these guys more than we see our family some days,” Popovic said. “We spend a lot of time together at practice, in the weight room, individual workouts, etc. So these guys are like my family. You never think about that moment until it comes, when you realize this was the last time they came off the floor.”

The head coach was already thinking about next season with some of the substitutions he made in the last quarter of that final game. Rookie guard Tariq Bakri-Hamad, who averaged 1.6 minutes per game this season, played 12 minutes against Saint Mary’s and scored 10 points.

“Against Saint Mary’s, we made a run [and cut their lead] in the second half,” Popovic said. “Tariq was on the floor during that run so those are very valuable minutes for him.”

The players will take a break to focus on their exams, but Popovic wants to see them in the weight room as soon as possible. Even though the 2019-20 regular season starts in November, the Stingers could be playing preseason games as early as August.

Main photo by Mackenzie Lad.


Stingers lose quarter-final game at nationals against Ryerson

HALIFAX — The Concordia Stingers men’s basketball team lost 87-47 in their national quarter-final match against the Ryerson Rams at the Scotiabank Centre, in Halifax, Nova Scotia.

“All of our guys are here for the first time at the nationals and we were a bit nervous,” said Stingers head coach Rastko Popovic.

Popovic, who won the 2018-19 Réseau du sport étudiant du Québec (RSEQ) coach of the year, brought the Stingers to their first nationals since 2012. They scored only six points in the first quarter and were down 26-6.

“We started off slow and, against a team like that, you can’t really have a slow start because it’ll put you down like they did,” said fourth-year guard Adrian Armstrong.

Guard Adrian Armstrong went 2/12 from three-point range in the game. Photo by Mackenzie Lad.

Popovic thought the start of the game could have been different if Armstrong had mande a few early shots. Armstrong shot 38 per cent from field goal range and 16 per cent from three-point range in the game.

“I thought we had two good looks to start for Adrian. If you knock those down, then the game could go the other way,” Popovic said.

The low start didn’t discourage Armstrong, who finished with a game-high 19 points. Late in the first half, he was able to knock down a few shots. With 31 seconds left in the second quarter, Armstrong hit a mid-range jumper to give the Stingers a confidence boost. They tied the Rams 15-15 in points in the second quarter, but the score was still 41-21 at halftime.

In the second half, the Rams got off to a hot start, making three of their first four shots and getting on an early 6-1 run. The Stingers didn’t quit and kept trying to find open shots. Concordia was able to penetrate open lanes, but unable to connect on multiple occasions because of Ryerson’s size. Concordia has three players at 6’7”, but Ryerson has five players either the same height or taller.

“Their size and length forced me and others to take shots late in the [shot] clock,” said Armstrong.

Despite the Rams’s size advantage, fifth-year guard Ricardo Monge believes that the Stingers can improve on being aggressive.

“We had many wide open layups and open shots, but we have to make them,” Monge said.

Monge finally gets to nationals

In his first appearance at the tournament, Monge finished with 11 points, five assists, four rebounds and three steals.

“It’s a great experience to be out here and get to experience this,” said Monge, who was the RSEQ MVP this season. With just over five minutes left in the fourth, he made back-to-back layups and a shot from top of the key to keep his team going.  

“I’m very proud of everything [Monge] has accomplished,” said Popovic. “It’s great for him, in his fifth year, to get an opportunity to come here and play at the nationals. He has done so much for the program and it’s just disappointing to come here and to lose a game like this.”

The Stingers lost to the Saint-Mary’s University Huskies, 84-67, Saturday morning in the consolation semi-final at the Scotiabank Centre.

Main photo by Mackenzie Lad.


Stingers had a long journey to the championship

Basketball head coach Rastko Popovic is proud of everybody involved

The Concordia Stingers men’s basketball team played their first preseason game on Aug. 6, 2018, against the Ole Miss Rebels. Almost seven months later, the Stingers won the Réseau du sport étudiant du Québec (RSEQ) championship, beating the Université du Québec à Montréal (UQAM) Citadins, 73-69.

Since the Stingers last won a title in 2012, they changed their coach from John Dore to Rastko Popovic. Photo by Mackenzie Lad.

“To become a champion, it’s a long road,” said head coach Rastko Popovic after the Stingers’s win against the Citadins on March 2. “You don’t just show up; you have to put in the work. I told our guys that game against Ole Miss paid off.”

From that first game against the Rebels, the Stingers played 33 preseason, regular season, and playoff games. They won 20 times, and had an 11-5 regular-season record.

“We struggled with some injuries, but I thought we had a pretty good regular season,” Popovic said. “We had some losses near the end, but you can’t expect to win every game in our league when you play each other so many times.”

For most of the Stingers, this championship title has been the result of hard work throughout the years. They last won the title in 2012, before Popovic was named head coach in 2015. Under him, the Stingers lost two semi-final games in 2016 and 2017, before losing last year’s final to McGill.  

“We just had progression every year, but lost a couple of tough games in the playoffs,” Popovic said. “You have to learn the daily habits of becoming a champion and you have to live by that. We pushed our guys, and I’m so proud of our guys.”

Although the team had a handful of rookies this year, they might not have won the championship without help from their veterans. Fifth-year players Garry Merisier and Ricardo Monge stepped up and performed when it counted—Merisier played 22 minutes and collected four rebounds in the final, while Monge had a team-high 19 points and made four of his six three-point shots.

“Big-shot Rick, MVP, team captain, whatever you want to call him, he does it all for us,” said guard Adrian Armstrong.

Monge, who won the RSEQ’s MVP trophy, played in the last home game of his Stingers career, and his teammates saw it as inspiring. “We were going to ride or die with him making [important] shots,” said forward Olivier Simon. “He’s been working on shooting all year. He has confidence [in himself], so we’re not surprised.”

One of Monge’s biggest shots of the game came right at the end of the third quarter, while the Citadins started to come back. He made a three pointer, giving the Stingers a 48-43 lead heading into the final quarter. Popovic said it gave his team energy for the fourth, and helped them win.

“This is the materializing of all the hard work I’ve put in throughout all these years,” Monge said. “It never happened for me, but it feels good to win my first championship.”

The point guard said only his team knows exactly what they had to go through to reach this point in the season. “We worked so hard, we’ve been through so many ups and downs,” Monge said. “Practices in cold gyms, hot gyms, it’s just a grind. It’s really special.”

Popovic added his team wouldn’t have won the championship without the work from everybody around the team. “I’m so proud of our coaching staff, our therapists, everybody in the [athletics] department,” he said. “This is for everyone involved with Concordia basketball, from the alumni to the supporters. Everybody has a piece of this [trophy], and helped us and seen our progression since day one.”  

The Stingers will now play at the national tournament in Halifax from March 8 to 10. When they last won the RSEQ title in 2012, they lost two games at nationals. Popovic played at the tournament for the Stingers in 2005, also in Halifax, and lost in the final.

“It’s the first time at nationals for all these guys,” Popovic said. “Going to nationals is the best experience of your life. You represent your school and it’s just a great reward for all the hard work these guys have put in.”

The players want to represent not only their school, but also the RSEQ as a whole, as they are the only team from Quebec. “We want to go out and show Quebec is one of the stronger conferences,” Armstrong said. “Obviously, we had some respect this season being ranked [in the Top 10], but it’s not enough.”

Main photos by Mackenzie Lad.


Stingers win RSEQ title in men’s basketball

Concordia beats UQAM Citadins 73-69 at home

The Concordia Stingers men’s basketball team won the Réseau du sport étudiant du Québec (RSEQ) title Saturday night at the Concordia Gym. They beat the Université du Québec à Montréal (UQAM) Citadins in the final, 73-69.

“Being a champion is the best feeling in the world,” said Stingers head coach Rastko Popovic. “I’m so proud of our guys.”

Guard Ricardo Monge accepts the trophy from a RSEQ representative. Photo by Mackenzie Lad.

The Stingers finished first in the RSEQ during the regular season with an 11-5 record, and earned the right to host the game. They beat the Bishop’s Gaiters last Wednesday in the semi-final, while UQAM beat McGill in the other semi-final.

The Stingers opened the game strong, getting the home crowd behind them. They had a 13-11 advantage after the first quarter, and dominated the second to hold a 27-21 lead at halftime. They started the third quarter strong, but the Citadins battled back and kept the score close.

The Stingers celebrate with their trophy. Photo by Mackenzie Lad.

A Citadins bucket cut the Stingers’s lead to two points in the final minute of the third quarter. Then, fifth-year guard Ricardo Monge hit a three-point shot to give Concordia a 48-43 lead heading into the fourth quarter.

“That shot was big and it gave us confidence,” Popovic said. “They hung around, but then we made some monster plays down the stretch. Sam [Ghandour] had a huge three with two seconds left on the shot clock, Olivier [Simon] had a big tip-in with a backwards shot, I don’t know how that went in.”

“When I play, I just think about the play and just make reads, I couldn’t tell you what was going through my mind,” Monge said. “There’s nothing too special where I think ‘I need to make threes now.’”

Every time the Citadins cut the Stingers’ lead, Concordia scored timely baskets in the fourth quarter. Even though Simon’s behind-the-back shot looked like a lucky bounce, guard Adrian Armstrong said it shows how hard the team has worked through the years.

“He caught the ball, saw the shot clock and he knew he had to get it to the rim,” Armstrong said. “In his rookie year, I don’t know if he would have made that play.”

Simon finished the game with a double-double, collecting 18 points and 10 rebounds. Monge led the Stingers with 19 points, while Sami Ghandour had 17. The Stingers will now play at nationals in Halifax from March 7 to 10.

Women lose final

The Stingers women’s basketball team were also playing in the RSEQ final Saturday night. They lost to the Université de Laval Rouge et Or 75-55 in Quebec City.

More to come.  Main photo by Mackenzie Lad.


Men’s basketball team heads to second-straight final

79-71 win against Bishop’s Gaiters a result of team effort

The Concordia Stingers men’s basketball team advanced to the Réseau du sport étudiant du Québec (RSEQ) final for a second year in a row. They beat the Bishop’s Gaiters 79-71 in the semi-final on Wednesday night at the Concordia Gym.

The Stingers will now host the RSEQ final after playing it at McGill last year. Photo by Gabe Chevalier.

“So many guys stepped up; it’s a great win. I am really proud of the guys,” said head coach Rastko Popovic. “It’s all about team culture. Guys understand that they need to work hard; they want to listen. We pushed them to be the best.”

The Stingers had the lead for most of the game, except at the beginning of the fourth quarter when the Gaiters pushed back for a four-point lead.

That did not last long because the Stingers were hot from three-point range, finishing 11 three-point shots in the game. One of those was a highlight-reel from centre-court by Adrian Armstrong, who finished the game with 22 points.

After last year’s defeat in the final against McGill, the Stingers know what they must do to win the title. “Guys were not celebrating in the locker room. They know that it’s not our goal,” Popovic said. “That’s what I like about our guys”.

Adrian Armstrong made six of his 14 shots from three-point range. Photo by Gabe Chevalier.

The Stingers now host the Université du Québec à Montréal (UQAM) Citadins, who beat McGill in the first semi-final, Saturday night at 7 p.m..

“We know that they are going to come hard; they have nothing to lose, it’s in our home court,” the head coach added. “We are looking forward to the challenge.”

Armstrong was happy about his performance but he is focusing on the next game. “It’s day-to-day. Now we focus on UQAM,” Armstrong said. “We know it’s going to be a tough game.”

In four games against the Citadins this season, the Stingers went 2-2, winning both games at home.

Main photo by Gabe Chevalier.


Stingers split tightly-contested doubleheader with UQAM

Men’s team extends league-best record while women fall for third-straight game

The Concordia Stingers basketball teams split a pair of games against the Université du Québec à Montréal (UQAM) Citadins Thursday night at the Concordia Gym. It was the first of two doubleheaders between the schools this weekend.

Men’s game

The Stingers won the game 70-67, but it was a game filled with inconsistency. “I was very disappointed with how we executed on both ends, offensively and defensively,” said Stingers head coach Rastko Popovic.

The Stingers started the game strong, collecting rebounds and drawing fouls, and got up to a quick 7-2 lead within the first three minutes. They soon found themselves down 12-7 after the Citadins put together a 10-0 run to pull ahead, but the Stingers ended the quarter up 15-14.

Their lead fell apart very quickly as the Stingers found themselves down 30-20 just over halfway through the second quarter. Popovic called a timeout to rejuvenate his guys. “I just told them they will beat us if we play this way, and they responded well,” Popovic said.

After the timeout, the Stingers went on a 12-2 run and went into halftime tied at 32. The third quarter saw the Stingers fall behind 51-44 six minutes in. However, they closed the period by cutting the Citadins lead down to 55-51.

The fourth quarter was the team’s best, which saw Stingers guard Ricardo Monge score six points to grab a 61-58 lead. He finished the game with 11 points, three assists, and three steals.

The Citadins took back the lead with three minutes remaining, but the Stingers used their home-court advantage to dominate the last minutes and win.

Popovic said the Stingers reduced their turnovers in the second half, from 13 to three, which helped them win.

Guard Caroline Task (#7) was limited to six points in the loss. Photo by Victoria Lewin.
Women’s game

The Stingers entered the game Thursday night looking to snap their two-game losing streak. While the game was close, the Stingers lost to the Citadins, 68-63.

The first quarter saw the Stingers and Citadins trade chances. However the Citadins, who came into the game with a 1-8 record, had a 19-18 lead after the opening quarter.

The second quarter was led by Stingers star guard Myriam Leclerc, who helped her team grab a 33-30 lead at the half. Leclerc led all scorers with 17 points after two quarters, and finished the game with 29 points.

The Stingers’s momentum started to slip away in the third quarter. The Citadins’ centre Inga Aleksaite dominated the early part of the quarter on both ends of the floor. Despite this, the Stingers were able to keep the game close by putting up a 6-0 run to end the quarter, but were still down, at 51-49.

Concordia tied the game at 61 with two minutes left in the fourth after some good defence and rebounding. However, the game slipped away from the Stingers, as the Citadins scored seven points in the final minutes, and Concordia only scored two.

“UQAM came in hungrier than us,” said head coach Tenicha Gittens. “They came in and took it from us.”

The men’s team improved to 10-2 on the year while the women dropped to 7-5. They each play the Citadins today at UQAM, with the women tipping off at 2 p.m.

Main photo by Gabe Chevalier.


Only the men’s basketball team able to get win against Laval

Women lose back-to-back games against #1 seed Rouge et Or

The Concordia Stingers basketball teams split a doubleheader against the Laval Rouge et Or at home on Jan. 26. The men’s team won 90-76 while the women’s team lost 81-63.

Men’s game

The men’s team entered the game with high motivation after suffering a tough loss earlier in the week against Laval. The Stingers led by 14 points in the third quarter, but the Rouge et Or came back to win.

The Stingers looked to continue their winning streak at home and extend their conference-leading 8-2 record. Laval and Concordia began the game with a back-and-forth struggle, as both teams traded baskets throughout the first half.

Despite scoring 23 points in each the first and second quarter, Stingers head coach Rastko Popovic said his team could have played much better. “I thought we didn’t play well at all in the first half,” Popovic said.

These high expectations for his team is one of the many factors that has led to the winning record for the Stingers this season. The Stingers methodically followed their game plan in the second half. The ball movement from the starters to the reserves is what allowed the Stingers to slowly wear down their opponent as they forced 14 turnovers, which led to 16 points scored all game.

In contrast, Concordia only had seven giveaways the entire game. By the end of the third quarter, the Stingers held their largest lead of the game with seven points and in the fourth, their consistency on both ends was too much for Laval.

One of the game’s brightest stars was forward Aleks Simeunovic. After suffering a knee injury a year ago, he returned with the team this season and made an instant contribution. His two three-pointers came in the second half, one of which was at the end of the third quarter, giving the Stingers a huge momentum boost.

Simeunovic attributes his performance to the trust his team had in him during his recovery and return to the court. “[It] feels really good to be back out there again and playing,” he said. “My teammates have my back and the biggest thing is that they believe in me. They trusted me, so when I get on the court, it’s just easy to do my thing.”

The camaraderie on this team has been apparent from the beginning of the season. Both the coaches and players understand the importance of that bond as the playoffs approach.

“We keep stressing with our guys everyday in practice that we don’t care who shoots–we want good shots and it showed tonight,” Popovic said. With five games remaining in the regular season, the Stingers look forward to continuing their success.

Women’s game

The Rouge et Or remained undefeated all season, entering the game with an 8-0 record, while the Stingers’s was 7-3. With McGill in hot pursuit of the second seed in the Réseau du sport étudiant du Québec (RSEQ) behind Concordia, this game held extreme significance for the Stingers.

The game began with the Rouge et Or establishing their dominance in the paint. They took advantage of their taller centres and forwards to force switches with screens and dominate in front of the basket.

The Stingers struggled in the first quarter with turnovers and rebounds, allowing Laval to jump to an early 24-11 lead. The Stingers came back strong in the second, rallying behind Myriam Leclerc who scored a game-high 17 first-half points.

Midway through the second quarter, the Stingers had put together a 10-4 run by using their quickness to get steals. Stingers guard Elise Roy fought hard at both ends, supplying the kind of energy the Stingers needed to claw their way back into the game.

With the lead cut to seven in the second quarter, Laval responded with a 14-7 run of their own, ending the half with a 48-24 lead. The second half began the way the game started, with Laval using their good ball movement, keeping the Stingers guessing. Their good strategies began to open up easy opportunities from the outside, as Laval made all four of the three-point shots they took in the second half.

By the end of the third, Laval held a 19-point lead. The fourth quarter saw what the Stingers could bring as they opened with a quick 8-0 run, cutting the lead to 11 points. The Stingers forced 17 turnovers in the game and continued to play tough defence down the stretch. Although Concordia scored most of their points in the fourth quarter, Laval was able to match their opponents with 20 points in the quarter.

Despite the tough loss, the Stingers remain in second place in the conference.

Both the men and women play a home-and-home series against the Université de Québec à Montréal Citadins next weekend.

Main photo by Clare Redman.

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