By Gabriel Lee
By virtue of upsetting the Lakehead Wolves (ranked second in the nation), 86-70, last Friday, the Ryerson Rams men’s basketball team qualified for the Canadian Interuniversity Sports’ (CIS) national championships for only the second time in school history, and the first time since 1999.
The Rams making the nationals comes to a surprise to many but not to those who have keeping up with the strides the team has made since head coach Roy Rana took over the team three years ago.
In my season preview for the team back in November, I predicted that the team could make a lot of noise if they stayed healthy. Last season they began the season with a copious amount of optimism until three key members of their front court, including the 6’11 Bjorn Michaelsen, suffered major injuries. The Rams were unable to overcome said injuries and bowed out in the Ontario University Athletics (OUA) quarter-finals to the Carleton Ravens.
In their home opener this year, the Rams almost suffered a similar fate. They were leading the Wilfrid Laurier Golden Hawks, who were the 10th ranked team in the country at the time, for most of the game until star rookie Aaron Best hobbled off with an ankle injury. After Best got hurt, Laurier finished the game on a 19-2 run, and overcame Ryerson’s early lead.
In the following weeks, Greg Osawe, their starting small forward, suffered a season ending injury and Michaelsen also got hurt and wasn’t expected to be back in action until around Christmas time.
With two of their five members unavailable, the Rams began the season 2-5.
But their season took a 180 with the return of Michaelsen.
The Rams won the National Invitational Tournament, a tournament they host annually over the holiday season (coincidentally the last time they won that tournament was also 1999). After that the Rams finished the season on a tear, winning nine of their last 11 games dating back to Jan. 19.
Then, the Rams clinched the second seed in the OUA East division when the University of Toronto defeated the Ottawa Gee-Gees in the last game on the regular season, earning them a bye in the first round.
In the second round of the playoffs, they up-ended the Gee-Gees 74-71 in Kerr Hall’s swan song.
Rana’s squad have snuck up on Lakehead in the semi-finals but this weekend at nationals they won’t be sneaking up on anybody.
With a week to prepare for each other, surely the Alberta Golden Bears, the Rams’ opening round opponent, will have the Rams’ strengths and weaknesses identified by tomorrow afternoon when tip-off comes around and vice-versa.
Heading into the tournament, the Rams are ranked seventh in the eight-team tournament. But if last weekend proved anything, it’d be that rankings don’t mean anything when it comes down to a one game playoff.
The Rams open up the nationals tomorrow night at 5 p.m. against Alberta.
Follow our coverage of the tournament all weekend long, as our reporter Harlan Nemerofsky and photographer Dasha Zolota provide you with up to the minute coverage on the Rams’ road to the championship.