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Ottawa 24, Concordia 12: Stingers come up short in competitive regular season finale

Concordia ends the regular season with a 2-4 record, will face Carleton in the opening round of the RSEQ playoffs

The Concordia Stingers women’s rugby team played their final game of the RSEQ regular season on Sunday afternoon, losing their second matchup against the Ottawa Gee-Gees by a 24-12 scoring margin. The Stingers secured the third seed in division A with the loss, ending the season with a 2-4 record and setting the stage for a quarterfinal matchup against Carleton next week.

Stingers head coach Jocelyn Barrieau said that she expects the upcoming playoff matchup to be competitive given the two teams’ recent history. 

“We have a big, physical matchup coming up against Carleton, we’re well aware of the physical nature of their game,” Barrieau said. “It’s also a rematch from the playoffs two years ago, so we know that they’ll be very fired up to come here and perform.”

The last time Ottawa and Concordia met on Oct. 2, the Stingers got shutout in a 50-0 loss on the road. Barrieau said she wanted her team to focus on the little things ahead of their second meeting of the season.

“One of our big points of emphasis this year is continuing to work on our trust in each other, in everyone’s abilities to do their jobs. Coming into today, we also changed our warmup routine, so it was those types of little adjustments that led to the better results on the field,” said Barrieau. 

The Stingers seized control of the game early, registering a try in the opening minutes of the match. Ottawa responded quickly with a try of their own, tying the game at 5-5 after both teams failed their conversion attempts. The score would remain tied through the opening 20 minutes as both sides struggled to establish their footprint on the game. 

Ottawa was able to impose their will on Concordia to end the first half, notching a pair of tries to head into halftime leading 19-5. Stingers forward Shawna Brayton would register a try at the 59 minute mark, briefly setting the stage for a potential Concordia comeback. However, a late try by Ottawa front row Anna Dodge put the game out of reach. Gee-Gees back Alexandra Ondo and Stingers back Emma Gallagher were named MVP for their respective teams. 

Barrieau said the team’s training schedule heading into the playoffs will prioritize recovery with less contact than usual. 

“This game was very physical, and we know next week will be too, so our goal is to try and keep our girls fresh.”

The Stingers will host the Carleton Ravens in the RSEQ playoff quarterfinals this Friday at Concordia Stadium.

 

Photograph by Aashka Tarun

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Reflecting on the Stingers women’s hockey team’s breakthrough season

The Concordia Stingers women’s hockey team spent all but one week as the best team in U Sports during the 2019-20 season.

For 14 weeks straight, the Stingers were voted to the No. 1 spot—and for good reason. This was the best regular season of Julie Chu’s head coaching tenure. The Stingers finished as the top team in the RSEQ (arguably the toughest division in U Sports) with a 15-3-1-1 record.

The Stingers were forced to hold off the Université de Montreal (UdeM) Carabins and McGill Martlets. All three of these teams should have consistently been ranked in the U Sports top five every week this season. All season long, not only did the Stingers survive those games against UdeM and McGill, they thrived, consistently winning hard-fought matches. The Stingers won the RSEQ division title for the first time since 2004-05.

Even though this team preached the “one game at a time” mentality, going into the playoffs, the expectations were that the Stingers would be heading to Charlottetown, P.E.I., to push for a national championship. Those expectations came to a crashing halt during the semi-finals of the RSEQ playoffs when the Stingers lost the best-of-three series to the Carabins.

 

Let’s start with the positives: they scored goals like nobody’s business, they fired a TON of shots on net. The systems on special teams figured themselves out and proved to be impactful. I’m sure if U Sports kept track of possession numbers, the Stingers would be close to the top as well. But the Stingers’ success this season was in large part due to the following two reasons.

Proving themselves

Three seasons ago, the Stingers won bronze at nationals. If that proved that the Stingers had the ability to compete with top teams, this season proved that they are a top team.

Despite not making it to the national championship this season, the Stingers proved themselves as a force in U Sports. No other team in Canada would have fared as well in the RSEQ as they did. Chu has built a team designed for long-term success in a gruelling division. She’s brought in rookies capable of immediately becoming impact players. Veterans play key roles in creating that winning culture. Goaltending continues to be one of the most underrated aspects of this team.

 

Individual talent

 

The Stingers played well as a team all season, but it didn’t hurt to have some of the top players in the country either. Rosalie Bégin-Cyr led the RSEQ in points with 28 in 20 games (she also led the U Sports top scorers in PPG).

Claudia Dubois capped off her five-year run with Concordia by being named team captain and becoming one of the best two-way forwards in U Sports. She also put up 23 points—the highest point total of her career—to finish second in RSEQ scoring, only behind Bégin-Cyr.

Audrey Belzile continues to be one of the most exciting players in U Sports and scored 22 points during the season. Brigitte Laganière exploded for 18 assists on defence, all while becoming one of the premier defenders in the division.

 

Alice Philbert went 12-4, sported a 1.99 GAA and 0.921 SV% while backstopping the Stingers to a division title. On any other team, Philbert is THE star player. On the Stingers, she flies under the radar more than she should. Emmy Fecteau led all RSEQ rookies with 17 points and played on the top line for a good chunk of the season.

So it shouldn’t come as a shock that the team cleaned up at the RSEQ awards. Chu won her second Coach of the Year award, Bégin-Cyr was named the division’s MVP and Fecteau was named RSEQ Rookie of the Year. Bégin-Cyr, Belzile and Laganière were all named First Team All-Stars. Alexandra Nikolidakis and Dubois were named Second Team All-Stars.

Now, remember that this team is only losing two players to graduation this year. With this type of talent returning to the roster, the expectations for next season are already sky-high.

Six-time F1 World Champion Lewis Hamilton has a great quote in the Netflix series Drive to Survive that goes “It’s easier to chase than to lead.” I think that sentiment sums up the Stingers pretty well this year.

They were vaulted to the top of the U Sports rankings in Week 2 and they held the position until the end of the regular season. For 14 weeks, the Stingers played with a target on their back. They managed to push past this, but you could tell that they were getting their opponents’ best every single night. Not many teams took days off against Concordia.

Despite this, even from a critical standpoint, the Stingers’ faults were either minor or addressed.

By no means did the Stingers get complacent—quite the opposite is true. All season, Chu spoke about how she and her team were focused on fixing the chinks in their armour. As the season progressed, the team won games by playing faster than anyone else. And all season long, that style and mentality worked. The team won a lot. They scored a lot. They played their game. Even the Stingers’ power play struggles managed to turn around and the team finished at 15 per cent.

Unfortunately, sometimes you play a team that just figures it out.

In the semi-finals, the Stingers struggled to gain momentum against the Carabins because they played a different style. While the Stingers focused on getting the pucks to the slot through speed, the Carabins played along the boards, keeping the Stingers to the outside and forcing the puck into scoring chances. The Game 3 shot map shows this well.

During the regular season, the Stingers were able to win those battles. In the playoffs, it was the Carabins who won those same battles. Credit where credit’s due, the Carabins played a great playoff series, a series that can be added to the ever-growing rivalry between the two squads.

While the Stingers are probably disappointed in how their season ended, there’s no way this stops the momentum the program has built over the past three seasons.

Even though the Stingers won’t be making the trip to P.E.I., make no mistake—this is a team capable of competing for a national championship next season.

Photos by Cecilia Piga

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A challenging season for Concordia Stingers women’s basketball team

It’s been a tough season for the Concordia Stingers women’s basketball team.

After appearing in the Réseau du Sport Étudiant du Québec (RSEQ) final in 2018-19, as well as going to Nationals, the team finished 2019-20 last place with a 4-12 record.

The Stingers faced adversity all season long. The team dealt with many injuries, which made things complicated for head coach Tenicha Gittens. Despite disappointing results, Gittens said she’s proud of the way her team competed this season.

“I don’t think I had one player who was 100 per cent healthy [this season],” Gittens said. “They still went out there and battled. I always want more of them, so as a coach you’re never really satisfied. Yet, overall, they showed a lot of [effort and character]. It would have been easy, and not just for the last games of the season but many, to give up.”

Photo by Laurence Brisson Dubreuil

Even during preseason tournaments and exhibition games, the Stingers had some of their starting players injured. Teams usually take advantage of preseason games to build chemistry between their players, and work on their system to make the last adjustments before the regular season.

However, the Stingers could barely do so because of injuries that occured to some key players before the start of the 2019-20 RSEQ season. The team showed chemistry towards the end of the season, but it was too late for a playoff push. Gittens said the chemistry was still a good point to retain from this year.

I think it started to get better,” Gittens said. “At the beginning of the season we were [dealing with injuries and had rookies]. Nelly Owusu and Myriam Leclerc were still out at that point. Sometimes, establishing a chemistry takes a little bit longer than you’d like. I think if we played like in this last game, but in January, it would have been a much different outcome. It just took us too long.”

Gittens said she talked with her players about not waiting for things to happen, and taking advantage of what you can control. She explained that building chemistry, and having success isn’t just always about things happening on the court.

“We went to Nationals and competed for the RSEQ championship last year, so of course we looked for the same kind of success,” Gittens said. “We have the understanding that we had no depth. We had players who were expected to join our program and ended up not coming. We just dealt with a lot. People don’t see that, as they see us in games or in the gym, but there’s much more than that. It’s an unfortunate thing, and it happens sometimes. We will be championship contenders again, and that’s the focus. You have to take it one day at a time sometimes.”

Photo by Alex Hutchins

Rookie point-guard Owusu also had a challenging season, coming back from her second ACL injury and a shoulder injury. Owusu played for Dawson College in division 1 of the RSEQ before joining the Stingers. She was one of the best players in division 1, especially defensively where she finished the 2017-18 season first in steals.

Gittens said the coaching staff knew what they were adding to the team when recruiting Owusu, but it’s still hard to describe her rookie season because just like other teammates, she wasn’t healthy from start to finish.

“Owusu played at like 65 per cent, and still doesn’t have feeling in her arm because of her shoulder,” Gittens said. “She’s incredibly hard on herself. She’s a great example for the other players. We didn’t really have [a healthy] Owusu this season. The focus now is just to have her back healthy. We’re going to take time off, and rehabilitate those injuries we have in the group for next year.”

Gittens described the season as mentally tough, including for herself. She said it’s been hard to try figuring out how to manage the team with all the injuries.

“I expect things of my players, but not anything I’m not going to expect out of myself first,” Gittens said. “There were so many things we wanted to do, but unfortunately couldn’t because we had six or perhaps seven depth players [in the lineup]. It’s part of the sport and the job, and I have to know how to manage those things and put us in a position to win.”

Despite finishing the season with just four wins, there are still things Gittens thought were good. She pointed out to the character her team showed in some moments this season, which is certainly a positive to keep for next year.

“I think that when we played McGill, and that Leclerc went down [because of an injury], our players offered a phenomenal fight,” Gittens said. “To me, it showed their character and ability to respond to adversity. They proved they had each other’s back. It was the same in the last game of the season, as it would have been to just give up and [accept the fact] we’re already eliminated. However, we were at home, and gave us a chance to win the game. Our players played until the very end and cared.”

 

Feature photo by Alex Hutchins

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Stingers men’s basketball team ready for the second part of the season

The Concordia Stingers men’s basketball team is back from holiday break and looking forward to continuing a good start to the season.

The Stingers’s last Réseau du sport étudiant du Québec (RSEQ) season game dates back to Nov. 30. However, the team remained active by playing a tournament in Halifax at the end of December. Stingers head coach Rastko Popovic said at this level, teams don’t have much time to rest during the season.

“We usually have a little break of about a week at the beginning of December for exams,” Popovic said. “We then practice and have a few days off before Christmas. We were back practicing again on the 26.” Popovic said the Stingers flew to Halifax on Dec. 27 for its tournament. The team then played three games from Dec. 28-30, registering two wins.

“It’s a very short break of about six school days off that players get before Christmas, but that’s about it,” Popovic said.

The Stingers won four of their first five games of the 2019-20 season, and are currently ranked second in the RSEQ behind McGill, with one game in hand. The team also had a 4-1 record after five games in the 2018-19 season.

“The McGill game was a close game all the way until the end,” Popovic said. “It’s a good start to the season, with two good wins against the Université du Québec à Montréal (UQAM) Citadins. Obviously, after losing Ricardo Monge last off-season, we kind of had to get used to playing without him.”

Monge was the point-guard, team captain, played his fifth and final season with the Stingers in 2018-19, was named the MVP in the RSEQ and received all-Canadian honours.

The transition period for the point-guard position was a bit tough at first for the Stingers. The team played exhibition games before the RSEQ season, but had to deal with injuries. Popovic said it was an adjustment for his team and the young players coming in. However, he said the team is satisfied with what came out of the first five games this season.

“We understand that our league is very competitive,” Popovic said. “There won’t be any easy game during the second semester. We have to get ready [for all of them]. Our next six games are against UQAM, McGill and the Bishop’s University Gaiters. Those will be six very competitive games. Those teams all played during Christmas time and got better.”

Popovic said that, since the start of the season, the coaching staff has been stressing a lot on making the right plays on offence, and sharing the ball.

“We don’t care who scores,” Popovic said. “We just want them to get the best shots as possible in every position. We want to eliminate turnovers. Early in the season, we turned it over too much. I’d say that right now, it’s a great overall team effort. Defensively, we’ve been pretty good, especially at understanding what we want to do against each team. However, there are still a lot of games left, so there are many things we want to get better at.”

Last season, forward Sami Ghandour missed the first two games of the season following a shoulder surgery. Ghandour is an important part of the team and is recognized for his energy on and off the court. This season, the forward was in uniform for the first five games of the season, having registered 58 points, and is tied for first in the RSEQ in rebounds, averaging 8.4 per game.

We call Sami — what we call in basketball terms — a glue guy,” Popovic said. “He’s not the one who will score 25 points per game. However, he does a lot of little things for us. He communicates and knows where to be on the court. Every team needs players like that to be successful. We’re looking forward to a big second semester for him.”

The Stingers only played five games but some players are already leaving great impressions on the court.

“Nathaniel Boisvert is playing a decent role for us,” Popovic said. “I also think Tariq Barki-Hamad has played well as a backup point-guard. We need these guys to come in and play well. We’re hoping we can get contribution from everyone, and that they can keep improving because it will make our team better. When you’re a young athlete coming in this league and playing minutes right away, you have a lot to learn. When players like Bryan Coriolan and Adrian Armstrong will graduate, we’ll need these guys to step in and play big minutes for us.”

With 11 games left in the season, the Stingers aren’t looking too far ahead. Popovic said the team simply wants to focus on itself.

“It’s going to be one game at a time, with one practice at a time by trying to get better,” Popovic said. “We already know our opponents, as we played them before.”

 

 

Feature image by Laurence B.D.

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