Welcome to Monday Morning Quarterback, a weekly look at all the best U SPORTS stories from the week.
Dinos are the new champions:
The Acadia University-hosted Final 8 national championship this week in Halifax saw several great games, capped off with the title game Sunday between the second-seeded Calgary Dinos and fifth-seeded Ryerson Rams. That game was tied at 77 with nine seconds left, and then fourth-year all-star guard Mambi Diawara drove the lane and hit what would prove the game-winning layup:
Diawara said afterwards head coach Dan Vanhooren drew up a play for him on that final possession, and he told his teammates before the clock started that he’d make the shot:
“I told the guys we’re not going to overtime. Coach drew a play and then I told him to give me the ball, I’ll make the play.”
“It still feels unreal. I can’t believe we won it. We worked hard all year. No one saw us winning, but we pulled out the Canada West (title) and now we just made history.”
Indeed they did. Left without a timeout, Ryerson couldn’t get a shot off in the final two seconds, and that meant the Dinos had their first men’s basketball national championship ever. And that capped off a nice run through the tournament, where they beat the seventh-seeded Brock Badgers 78-76 in the quarterfinals and downed the McGill Redmen 65-43 in the semifinals.
Player of the game and overall championship MVP David Kapinga led the way for Calgary in the gold-medal game with a team-high 25 points, plus eight rebounds and six assists, while Diawara had 14 points, 10 rebounds and six assists and Lars Schlueter had 18 points. For the Rams, Manny Diressa had 28 points, while Jean-Victor Mukama had 19. Here’s another angle of Diawara’s game-winning shot:
Another historic part of the Dinos’ victory was that it snapped the top-seeded Carleton Ravens’ streak of seven straight national titles. Calgary became the first non-Carleton school to claim the championship since the Saskatchewan Huskies in 2009-10, one of only two victories for schools other than the Ravens in the past 15 years (the other one came from the Brock Badgers in 2007-08). And that came thanks to the Rams downing the Ravens 84-76 in the semifinals Saturday , handing them their first loss of the year, and doing so behind another 28 points from Diressa.
That win for Ryerson marked yet another high-profile clash between the Ravens and Rams. The two teams had faced off in the last three Wilson Cup finals for the OUA championship, with Ryerson winning in 2016 and 2017 but Carleton triumphing this year. But the Ravens have done better in the Final 8, beating Calgary (who knocked off the Rams in the semifinals) 101-79 to take gold in 2016 and then edging the Rams 78-69 in last year’s final. This time around, though, Carleton won that Ontario title but lost the rematch. However, the Ravens rebounded to beat the McGill Redmen 76-71 for bronze.
Ravens cap off perfect season by claiming their first national title
The top-seeded Ravens’ women’s basketball team made some history of their own Sunday at the Final 8 in Regina, winning their first national title with a 69-48 victory over the sixth-seeded Saskatchewan Huskies. The Ravens trailed 25-24 at the half, but pulled away thanks to a 24-14 third quarter and stayed on top with a 21-9 fourth to lift the Bronze Baby.
Fifth-year forward Catherine Traer led the way for Carleton with 21 points and 10 rebounds and was named the Ravens’ player of the game, while fourth-year forward Elizabeth Leblanc contributed 12 points, nine rebounds and three assists and was named the overall championship MVP.
This was a particularly interesting moment for Traer, as she started her U SPORTS career with the Ottawa Gee-Gees and went to the Final 8 with them in 2013, which was also held in Regina. The Gee-Gees lost their quarterfinal clash with the top-ranked and eventual champion Windsor Lancers 56-46 that year, though. Traer told Carleton’s Andrew Savory afterwards that loss and that Final 8 trip was on her mind this week:
“My whole career was flashing before my eyes. How funny is it that my first nationals was here in 2013? We lost to Windsor in the first round and they went on to win the national championship that year. Ever since then I was like, ‘Man we lost to Windsor by seven!’ I saw the hard work that Windsor put in and I thought, ‘You know what, we can do this. Anyone who puts their mind to it can do this.’”
“In the end, it’s the adversity and being mentally tough. I’m just so happy that I can end my U SPORTS career—I’m not calling it quits yet, I’m not sure what I’ll do after this—but I couldn’t have ended my Canadian career on a better note.”
Meanwhile, Leblanc said this marked the end to an incredible journey for this team:
It’s remarkable how the Ravens and Huskies made it to the final, too. The Ravens beat the eighth-seeded Calgary Dinos 52-42 in the quarterfinals, but only edged the fourth-seeded McGill Martlets 46-44 in the semifinals Saturday thanks to an incredible running 18-foot bank shot from Traer with 1.8 seconds left:
Meanwhile, the Huskies beat the third-seeded Acadia Axewomen 72-67 in the quarterfinals and came up with their own narrow 74-71 semifinal win over the host and second-seeded Regina Cougars Saturday. Regina went on to take bronze with a 66-63 win over McGill. And all U SPORTS teams together accomplished something pretty remarkable this year; the annual Shoot For The Cure initiative raised $100,961.31 for the Canadian Cancer Society this season, which was presented to CCS fundraising coordinator Kimberly McLean after the first quarter of the title game.
There was a further $17,996.85 raised by teams who opted to donate to local or provincial organizations, bringing the overall fundraising total to $118,958.16 this year and the 11-year total for the initiative to $1,252,516.77. All 47 U SPORTS women’s basketball programs participated for the seventh straight season by holding one or more Shoot For The Cure fundraising nights. Here’s a 2017 Sportsnet feature on Shoot For The Cure:
Track and Field
Gryphons pick up first title sweep in a decade
The Guelph Gryphons have been quite the track and field powerhouse on both the men’s and women’s sides, but Saturday marked the first time since 2007-08 that they swept the men’s and women’s team titles. That feat hadn’t been accomplished since the Windsor Lancers, who were hosting this week’s track and field nationals, did it in 2008-09. And while Guelph’s programs had each found plenty of success since 2007-08, with the men winning in 2009-10, 2012-13 and 2016-17 and the women taking a national title in 2013-14, this marked the first time for them to both top the field at nationals in a decade.
Both teams won in dominant fashion, too. The Gryphons put up 122.5 points on the men’s side, almost double the 68 of the second-place Alberta Golden Bears, and 123 on the women’s side, well ahead of the three-time reigning national champion Toronto Varsity Blues’ 84. Head coach Dave Scott-Thomas said afterwards while the sweep his teams pulled off in Montreal a decade ago was memorable, this year’s teams were even more impressive, with a combined point total about 100 points higher:
"It's our strongest year ever," Scott-Thomas, who was named U SPORTS Women's and Men's Coach of the Year, said as a matter of fact. "I put a lot of weight on titles as an indication of strength. We've had other very good years.
"But this shows where we are now as a program."
This marked the Gryphons’ fifth national title on the men’s side and their third on the women’s side. Some particularly notable results for Guelph Saturday included fifth-year star Thomas Land winning his final 600m race, Morgan Byng, Shyvonne Roxborough, Tessa Hamilton, and Jenna Smith setting a school and fieldhouse record while winning the 4x200m event, and Maja Naruszewicz winning the high jump.
Land was named male athlete of the meet (shared with Alberta’s Austin Cole) for the second straight year after taking his second consecutive national gold in the 600m and also picking up gold in the 1000m. Windsor’s Kelsey Balkwill was named the female athlete of the meet after claiming four medals, including gold in the 300m and 600m, gold in the 4X400m relay, and silver in the 4X200m relay.
Varsity Reds and Redmen claim conference titles, Axemen and Stingers earn last University Cup berths
It was an excellent week for the UNB Varsity Reds and the McGill Redmen. The Varsity Reds beat the StFX X-Men 6-3 at home in the first game of the best-of-three Atlantic University Sport final last Monday night behind two goals from Cam Brace, then finished the sweep off on the road with a 5-0 win Wednesday, fueled by a 19-save shutout from AUS playoff MVP Alex Dubeau. Dubeau said afterwards this was about the team’s character and experience:
“It takes leadership, it takes character, and that’s what we have. We got guys who have won in the past and they brought it tonight, they were really sharp and I felt pretty good, so that’s a good combination.”
That marked UNB’s 15th AUS men’s hockey title overall, but their first since 2015, and it paved the way for them to earn the top seed at this week’s University Cup national championships, which they’ll host in Fredericton. Meanwhile, the Redmen will be the third seed there after claiming their 18th Queen’s Cup as OUA champions with a 5-1 win over the Brock Badgers Saturday, led by two goals from Samuel Tremblay. That was McGill’s first Queen’s Cup victory since 2012, and their fifth in the last 11 years; their previous 13 came between 1903 and 1946.
The field for this week’s University Cup is set, with the Acadia Axemen and Concordia Stingers claiming the seventh and eighth seeds respectively after taking bronze in their conferences. Acadia edged the Saint Mary’s Huskies in a best-of-three AUS series, winning 6-3 at home, then losing 3-2 on the road before winning 6-1 at home. Concordia beat the York Lions 3-2 in the OUA bronze-medal game. Those teams will join the top-seeded Varsity Reds, the second-seeded Alberta Golden Bears (who won the Canada West title last week), the third-seeded Redmen, the fourth-seeded Badgers, the fifth-seeded X-Men, and the sixth-seeded Saskatchewan Huskies.
Rams continue perfect season with first Quigley Cup, take final berth at nationals
The field for this week’s 2018 U SPORTS Women’s Volleyball Championship presented by Hôtel Universel Québec, hosted by Laval Rouge et Or in Quebec City, was all set ahead of this week except for the one OUA berth. That berth will be claimed by the Ryerson Rams, who went 19-0 this regular season and then made a run through the playoffs, culminating with the OUA Final Four they hosted this weekend. There, the Rams picked up a four-set win (21-25, 25-16, 25-18, 25-16) over the Western Mustangs in the semifinals Friday and then claimed their first-ever OUA championship after another four-set win (27-29, 25-18, 25-19, 25-15) over the McMaster Marauders Saturday, led by 12 kills and 10 blocks from fourth-year middle hitter Theanna Vernon.
At nationals, the Rams will be the fourth seed. They’ll join the top-seeded Calgary Dinos (the Canada West champions), the second-seeded Montreal Carabins (the RSEQ champions), the third-seeded UBC Thunderbirds, the fifth-seeded UBC Okanagan Heat, the sixth-seeded Dalhousie Tigers, the seventh-seeded Alberta Pandas and the eighth-seeded host Rouge et Or.
Huskies and Mustangs claim conference championships
The berths for the 2018 U SPORTS Women’s Hockey Championship, hosted by the Western Mustangs in London, Ontario, had all been claimed ahead of this week, but conference championships and seeding were still on the line for OUA and AUS teams. The Mustangs took the top OUA berth by beating the Queen’s Gaels 3-0 on the road to win the McCaw Cup Saturday, led by a 28-save shutout performance from game MVP Carmen Lasis.
Meanwhile, Saint Mary’s Huskies claimed their third-straight AUS title following a hard-fought best-of-three series with the StFX Women. Saint Mary’s won the first game 4-2 on the road last Friday, but fell 2-1 in overtime last Sunday. That set up Tuesday’s deciding game on the road, which they won 1-0 thanks to a 30-save shutout from playoff MVP Rebecca Clark.
Saint Mary’s, Western, StFX and Queen’s will all be at nationals, seeded second, third, fifth and eighth respectively. They’ll be joined by the top-seeded Manitoba Bisons (Canada West champions), the fourth-seeded Concordia Stingers (RSEQ champions), the sixth-seeded and Montreal Carabins, and the seventh-seeded Saskatchewan Huskies.
Spartans take Canada West title and top seed, Marauders win OUA-record sixth-straight Forsyth Cup
The defending national champion Trinity Western Spartans will head into this week’s TELUS 2018 U SPORTS Men’s Volleyball Championship at McMaster University in Hamilton as the top seed, thanks to a four-set win over the Alberta Golden Bears in the Canada West championship game. The other conference championships were claimed by the Montreal Carabins (a four-set win over the Laval Rouge et Or in the RSEQ final), the McMaster Marauders (a straight-sets win over the Queen’s Gaels in the OUA Forsyth Cup final, which gave them an OUA-record six straight titles, plus nine of the last 11), and the UNB Varsity Reds (a pair of four-set wins over the Dalhousie Tigers in a best-of-three series that wrapped up last week).
The championship field will feature (in berth order) the top-seeded Spartans, the Golden Bears, the UBC Thunderbirds, the Carabins, the Marauders, the Varsity Reds, the Gaels and the Windsor Lancers. The last two are particularly interesting stories; the Gaels are continuing an impressive run in head coach Brenda Willis’ final season, making their first trip to the national championships since they hosted the event in 2012, while the Lancers are making their first trip ever to nationals.
Social media post of the week:
Inspiration and emotion from Rams and Masters
Men’s basketball saw a couple of neat things to spotlight here. First, after that tough loss to Calgary in the national championship game, Ryerson Rams’ star Manny Diressa still had time for a group of young fans:
Meanwhile, the UNB Varsity Reds lost their quarterfinal match against McGill and their consolation semifinal against Brock, which wasn’t the perfect end to Javon Masters’ U SPORTS career. But boy, was it ever a career:
And he sent out a neat tweet afterwards:
Masters definitely made his mark on the Varsity Reds’ team and on U SPORTS as a whole. But it sounds like their program made quite the impact on him too.