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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.

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Sports

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.

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Sports

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.

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Sports

Sutton begins new era as women’s coach with draw

Men’s soccer team lose season-opener against UQAM

The Université du Québec à Montréal (UQAM) Citadins kept the Concordia Stingers soccer teams scoreless for three hours of play on Aug. 29. The Stingers women’s team tied the Citadins 0-0, while the men’s side lost 1-0 in the season-opener at Concordia Stadium.

Women’s Soccer

A new era for the women’s soccer team began as Greg Sutton coached his first game in charge of the program. Even with a new coach, the Stingers and Citadins played to the same result as they did last year: a tie. Concordia tied UQAM 2-2 in both games against them last season.

“The biggest thing for me is that we didn’t concede, when last year against this team we conceded twice in both games,” Sutton said. “You don’t lose if you don’t concede, and you give yourself a chance to win.”

Even with a scoreless draw, there were plenty of scoring chances on both sides. The Citadins had the majority of chances, but Stingers keeper Olivia Desgroseilliers made key saves. The Stingers’s defence also played a high line, creating plenty of offside calls against the Citadins, and frustrating their forwards.

“We have a very intelligent back four, “Sutton said. “We really didn’t give up breakaways from poor decisions on the offside trap.”

“Why chase after your opponent when you can just step up and run them offside?” Sutton added.  

Stingers forward Sarah Humes led the attack for her side. She was able to beat the Citadins’s defenders with her strength, and created a few scoring chances. In the second half, she beat the goalie with a low shot, but it hit the post and went wide.

“She will do well for us,” Sutton said about Humes. “She’s strong, she has a knack for goal, so she’s going to be a big piece for us offensively.”

Men’s soccer

Unlike the women’s team, the men weren’t lucky enough to shutout UQAM. This game got more physical than the women’s, with each team getting two yellow cards.

“The first game of every season is always a physical game,” third-year goalie Karl Gouabé said. “You want to send a message to everyone else in the league.”

The Stingers came out strong in the first half, with the forward duo of Simon Malaborsa and Yacine Ait Slimane creating problems for the opposing defence. Malaborsa had a couple of chances, but just didn’t get enough service before he was subbed off in the 65th minute. Sutton said they need to work on getting the ball up to the forwards.

“It’s going to take some time [to improve], and it’s not going to happen overnight,” Sutton said. “We’re just trying to work with our attacking midfielders and wingers to be able to support the forwards.”

Both teams pushed late to win, and it was the Citadins who got the lucky bounce. In the 80th minute, a UQAM cross in the box wasn’t cleared well enough by a Concordia defender, and the ball ended up in the midfield with UQAM in possession. Citadins’s Janouk Charbonneau took a long-range shot which deflected off Mohamed Derouiche, and found the back of the net.

“I think it was an unlucky result, in the sense that it probably should have been a 0-0 game,” the head coach said. “But we didn’t play well either, we are a much better team than we showed.”

The Concordia Stingers soccer teams host the Université du Québec à Trois-Rivières Patriotes on Friday Aug. 31 at the Concordia Stadium. The men’s game is at 6:30 p.m., followed by the women’s game at 8:45 p.m.

Main photo by Alex Hutchins.

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