Last season’s OUA women’s basketball bronze medalists open up the 2013-14 campaign on Friday at 6 p.m. in Montpetit Hall. The Gee-Gees begin the season as the no. 10 ranked team in the CIS, one of three OUA teams to crack the first Top Ten poll of the season. On the heels of a strong preseason, in which they went 4-1 against CIS competition and notched two wins over NCAA opponents, they won’t have a chance to slowly ease into regular season play. The Western Mustangs and three-time defending national champion Windsor Lancers come to town this weekend.
“The preseason has been a progression for us. We tried to build through the start of the year so I think we’re showing some of the improvement we’ve really been looking for,” says head coach Andy Sparks, who’s earned the OUA East’s Coach of the Year honours the past two seasons.
“We still have a lot of work to do to get all the pieces playing together. But we have excellent pieces.”
He identifies his leadership group of six players - Angela Tilk, Stephanie MacDonald, Kellie Ring, and Maddie Stephen, as the on court leaders and Charlotte MacKenzie and Sarah van Hooydonk as also being key to the team’s success and focus.
Ring, who returns healthy and motivated, averaged 5.0 assists per game last season, a close second in the OUA. She was named a conference all-star along with Stephen who averaged 11.3 rebounds per game, second best in the OUA, adding nine double-doubles to her stat line.
Along with returnees like all-rookie team members from last season, Catherine Traer and Julia Soriano, nine newcomers complement that core group.
“This year we have a great mix of girls,” says 5-10 guard Stephanie MacDonald. “We have quite a few first-year players, however we also have a lot of returning players who have three or more years experience in the CIS. The more experienced players have been able to guide the younger girls through training camp and into the preseason. I think we are starting to come together very well as a team on and off the court.”
Although there’s progress and will always encounter challenges with so many new players, Sparks wants to see more improvement in the way the team plays together.
“I think there’s a lot of chemistry issues and just understanding of our systems and executing our systems at the level we need to,” he says. “The defensive end of the floor has been a little slower coming around than the offensive end. So that’s a key for us going forward making sure everyone’s on the same page.”
For a team that finished the 2012-13 regular season winning 15 of its final 16 contests, Sparks feels the expectations for success may not be high on the outside, but knows his team is confident and expect a lot of themselves.
“It’s a peak in March group, hopefully. There’s a lot of stuff that has to happen before that. We’re going to play a style of basketball everyone’s going to like to watch. We do play with pretty good tempo. I think our guard play is probably as good as anybody’s in the country. Rebounding is a key area. So that’s something we’re going to spend every day working on.”
The home opener on Friday night will feature the Western Mustangs, who come off a solid preseason showing of their own. Saturday, the Gee-Gees will play host to Windsor, whom they’ve met in three of the last five OUA finals.
All regular season basketball games at Montpetit Hall are free for uOttawa students to attend. All games are also streamed live on SSN Canada.
Gee-Gees 2013-14 Regular Season Home Schedule (all games at 6 p.m.)
Friday, Nov. 1 vs Western
Saturday, Nov. 2 vs Windsor
Friday, Nov. 22 vs Waterloo
Saturday, Nov. 23 vs Laurier
Friday, Jan. 17 vs Toronto
Saturday, Jan. 18 vs Ryerson
Tuesday, Jan. 21 vs Carleton – Capital Hoops Classic at Canadian Tire Centre
Friday, Jan 24. vs York
Saturday, Jan. 25 vs Queen’s
Friday, Feb. 14 vs Laurentian
Saturday, Feb. 15 vs Algoma