The St. Thomas women’s basketball team knew the road to a CCAA national championship was going to be hard.
The first game was Thursday night against the host Champlain Cavaliers. The gym was rocking and Tommies head coach Fred Connors had trouble communicating with his team due to the noise. He started pulling his timeouts onto the court so he could be heard.
But the noise didn’t faze St. Thomas. They took command, and when the going got tough, STU battled through with hard work and experience.
“We knew what to expect and that we would have to be solid till the buzzer sounds,” said third year Tommie Kelly Vass after Thursday’s game. Vass was named an All-Canadian the night before and she showed why, racking up 14 points and seven steals. That performance helped lift the Tommies over the Cavaliers, as STU won 58-50.
Next was the semi-final game against the Algonquin Thunder. The Thunder looked to be in control early, with an 18 point lead at half time. Despite the deficit, Coach Connors believed his team would come back.
“If we just got back to defending and trusting our ball movement we were going to be okay, and if we believe in each other we are going to win,” Connors told his team at halftime. “And everyone will remember the greatest comeback in our league history.”
And they did it. The Tommies had the game tied up with 37 seconds left. The Thunder’s Felicia Mazerolle went for a layup, but clanked it hard off the backboard. After a foul going for the rebound, STU had a chance to make it a two point game with 13 seconds left.
They missed both free throws.
Then fifth year player Ashley Bawn got the rebound and kicked the ball out to Lindy MacDonald behind the three point line. MacDonald had yet to make a three at nationals. She shot it anyway.
Time seemed to stall as the shot sailed toward the basket. Then the shot went down. Tommies fans went wild as STU beat Algonquin 72-69. That win put them in the finals against the reigning champions, the Montmorency Nomades. The Nomades were ranked number one, and for the first time all year, St. Thomas was the underdog.
“Coming in we didn’t really have anything to lose,” said Bawn, the only fifth year player with the Tommies this season. “We had played them before at Christmas and we got whacked by them, so really the pressure was on them.”
The Tommies played a better first half then the night before, but still found themselves down five halfway. STU had been struggling with their outside shot, but back-to-back triples by Bawn, and then another by McKenzie Balser, put STU within one point going into the fourth.
As time wound down, the Nomades resumed control. Despite hard work from the Tommies, Montmorency came away with the final victory, beating STU 59-54. The Tommies got silver.
“I’m sure in a couple days I’ll be able to appreciate it a bit more,” said Bawn after the loss.
The Tommies have a lot to be proud of this season. The team started with 14 players on the roster, but going into ACAA conference playoffs only had 10. Then in their first game, Katelyn Carver went down with an injury, putting the team at only nine players. They were still able to win the ACAA championship and silver at nationals.
The team loses Bawn, but the rest of the players are all eligible to come back. The team had won bronze a couple years ago, which leaves only one more goal to achieve.
“We were a dedicated group of nine that worked extremely hard,” said Vass. “I really think we can get to the finals again.”
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