Women’s Basketball News

Women’s Basketball

Leaders in sport: Four U SPORTS alumnae who reached the upper echelons on the court

Megan McPhaden

In honour of International Women's Day, U SPORTS is shining the spotlight on female U SPORTS alumni who’ve taken their talents from the basketball court to the board room, or behind the bench. Sports have played a significant role in building these leaders whose skills and abilities have led to successful careers in elite sports including as a coach, executive or administrator.

Chris Critelli

  • Olympian, 1976
  • Coach of Brock University women’s basketball for 27 years
  • Varsity athlete: Laurentian University, Old Dominion

At the tender age of 17, Chris Critelli was named to Canada’s national women’s basketball team. Just over a year later, in 1976, Critelli found herself competing at the Montreal Olympics when women’s basketball made its inaugural debut. It’s that moment that she credits with “catapulting” her career, one that spanned 35-years as both a coach and administrator at Brock University.

“The best way to go from player to coach is to jump at every opportunity,” she says, and that’s exactly what she did.

“I loved the game and worked hard at it, stayed in it, and then when I finished my playing days it just seemed a good fit to get into coaching.”

We're a direct influence of the people around us and mine happened to be coaches.

Although coaching opportunities in the U.S. offered more money at the time, she says it wasn’t a factor in her decision to stay in Canada.

“It really was about the passion for the game and the experience in Canadian sport, and having an influence in Canadian sport.”

In the 25 seasons she coached the Brock Badgers, she guided the team to 22 playoff appearances and one conference championship. There’s no doubt that her influence and legacy will continue long after her retirement. In 2016, Ontario University Athletics named the women’s basketball championship trophy the Critelli Cup, in her honour.

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“We're a direct influence of the people around us, and mine happened to be coaches.” – Chris Critelli

After retiring as the assistant athletic director at Brock, she’s turned her attention and efforts towards competitive golf and writing a book based on the lessons she learned from the many coaches she had during her time competing for Laurentian, Old Dominion in the NCAA, and the national team. 

“We're a direct influence of the people around us and mine happened to be coaches,” she says. “It's the lessons I learned and hopefully that I can pass on to other coaches, players and parents.” 

Michele O'Keefe

  • Former President and CEO of Canada Basketball
  • FIBA World board member
  • Associate Director of Athletics and Recreation at Niagara College
  • Varsity athlete: Bishop’s University

Michele O’Keefe fell in love with the game of basketball in the seventh grade, and was fortunate to have a number of great role models in her hometown region that played on Team Ontario.

“There was always somebody to look up to,” she says. “To know what you were aiming for."

Her love of the game blossomed at Bishop’s University, where she played varsity basketball – earning a national title in her rookie year. Along the way, women’s basketball was flourishing in Canada. At Bishop’s, she was fortunate to call three members of the Canadian national team her teammates.

Don't ever try to work solo or in a silo, you are always looking to collaborate with others.

Michele O'Keefe

“They were excellent players and great role models for us younger ones,” she says.

She spent three years cultivating her passion for the game and slowly transitioned into a coaching role at various levels and as an assistant coach with McMaster University women’s team from 1990 to 1992. In 1994, she took a job at Canada Basketball that would foreshadow her future career as a one of the top policy-makers driving Canadian basketball. It was supposed to be a summer job but evolved into a career that would span 24 years with the National Sports Organization.

She attributes her experience playing in university as great preparation for her eventual career at Canada Basketball.

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“Don't ever try to work solo or in a silo, you are always looking to collaborate with others.” - Michele O'Keefe

“Absolutely, for a couple of different reasons. I think playing on a basketball team really teaches you how important teamwork and collaboration is,” she says, adding “so for me it's something that has been instilled in my DNA since seventh grade.”

O’Keefe’s career soared to great heights, she became the president and CEO of Canada Basketball and is the only female vice-president on the FIBA Americas board. She’s helped the national women’s basketball team evolve into an international contender, consistently ranking in the top 10 at the FIBA World Championships and Olympic Games. Now she has returned to her roots in Niagara, and assumed the role of athletic director at Niagara College where she continues to guide the progress of sport at the collegiate level.

Sue Hylland

  • Director of Sport Services, University of Ottawa
  • Past President and CEO of the Canada Games Council
  • Former Executive Director of the Canadian Association for the Advancement of Women in Sport
  • Former coach at Bishop’s University, John Abbott College, Concordia University and McGill University
  • Varsity athlete: Bishop’s University, Concordia University

Since joining the University of Ottawa as Director of Sport Services in 2016, Sue Hylland has been welcoming a new era of university sport at the school. Her team is working towards a shared vision of enriching the student experience and uniting people across the campus.

“We have 43,000 students, and 7,000 to 8,000 employees, and they’re all Gee-Gees,” she points out. “Sport can be a catalyst to unite these people.”

They’re doing it by focusing on recruitment, retention and strengthening alumni relations. Hylland and her team have focused on elevating their coaching staff by hiring full-time coaches for part-time programs like rugby and soccer.

“We created a varsity integrated support team; leveraging resources across the university,” she says. “Whether it’s around mental health, mental performance, academic support, nutrition, and sport science.”

Although the changes on campus are in their infancy, she’s seeing positive results by way of their varsity teams’ success at the provincial and national university level. Since returning from a hiatus, the young Gee-Gees men’s hockey team has climbed the national standings, ranking in the Top 10. When the school hosted the women’s soccer national championship in November 2018, the team emerged victorious to earn their second national title, and first since 1996.

“We’re consciously making choices to apply and bid for these events because we think they add value to the student experience,” she says. “We want to be perennial national champion contenders - doesn’t mean we’re always going to win -- but we want to be knocking on the door all the time.”

Drawing from her own experience as a student-athlete at Bishop’s University, Concordia and John Abbott College, Hylland is a strong believer in university sport as a pathway to success.

 

“If you can juggle the sports side, and academic side, you are giving a lot,” she says. “I think you have something to offer to society in a leadership capacity once you graduate.”

 

Sue Hylland

“If you can juggle the sports side, and academic side, you are giving a lot,” she says. “I think you have something to offer to society in a leadership capacity once you graduate.”

Hylland is a testament to the value of university sport as a building block for a successful career. After spending 18 years with the Canadian Olympic Committee, leading the Canada Games Council as CEO and President, and guiding the Canadian Association for the Advancement of Women and Sport and Physical Activity as Executive Director, Hylland brought her talents to the University of Ottawa.

Her background as a U SPORTS coach, student-athlete, parent of past U SPORTS student-athletes and as a sports administrator, make her inextricably woven into the fabric of the Canadian university sport system.

Ultimately, her goal in her role at the University of Ottawa is to build a higher profile and visibility of university sport in Canada “with all the other institutions, conference partners, and with U SPORTS as the national driver.”

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“People don’t care what you know, until they know you care.”

Karla Karch

  • Olympian: 1996, 2000
  • Director of Athletics and Recreation at Mount Royal University
  • Varsity athlete: University of Victoria, University of Calgary

When you sit in Karla Karch’s office at Mount Royal University, you’ll find plenty of Cougars paraphernalia, but little that reveals her life before the school. The Olympian keeps a low profile when it comes to her background as a professional basketball player, instead turning the focus on the school where she is head of athletics and recreation. After playing professionally in Europe and representing Canada at the Olympics, she dove into administrative roles at high profile sporting events including the World Masters. Her resume caught the attention of Mount Royal who recruited her to lead their athletics department.

"Sports have gotten me where I am today and I used university as a conduit - I was a varsity athlete and everything my values, morals were guided through my family first,” she says. “Then Kathy Shields, who was my coach at university, taught me to be true to me and who I am - what my morals and values are."

ports challenged me in my morals - in the right or wrong, in everything I do today. My skills and abilities that I learned as an athlete, as a person, I learned through sport.

It’s a philosophy she has lived by since she was a competitive athlete and continues to apply it to the way she leads the cougars.

In 2009, she was part of Mount Royal’s transition from a college to a university that included a leap from competing in the Alberta Colleges Athletic Conference (ACAA) and Canadian Collegiate Athletic Association (CCAA) to Canada West and U SPORTS. Gender equity was one of the 19 criteria that had to be met to make the successful transition.

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"Sports challenged me in my morals - in the right or wrong, in everything I do today. My skills and abilities that I learned as an athlete, as a person, I learned through sport.”

Part of fulfilling that objective was ensuring men and women had equal opportunity and access to financial support through athletics.

“(Now) the number of scholarships that are for women is equal or almost on par with men,” she says, noting that her and her team have worked hard to level the playing field. “That's one thing that I am really proud of that we do here.”

 

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Megan_McPhaden.png (74 KB)Megan is a Master of Journalism graduate of Carleton University. For the past eight years, she has covered university sports at the provincial, national and international level. Her sports reporting has earned her the 660 News Diversity Scholarship from the Radio, Television and Digital News Foundation. Notably, she was one of 12 sports journalists chosen for the FISU Young Reporters Program in 2015 to cover the 28th Summer Universiade in Gwangju, South Korea.