Photo: Chris Blanchette

Women’s basketball preview: big questions, bigger goals for OUA champion Rams

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By Chris Blanchette

For most U Sports programs, winning a national championship is a lofty goal. For the Ryerson Rams women’s basketball team, it’s a realistic expectation for the upcoming season.

The Rams fell just short of a national title last season, losing 85-71 to the Saskatchewan Huskies in the championship game of the CIS Finals. After winning their first-ever Ontario University Athletics (OUA) championship title last year, all signs point toward another year of success. But there are three players from the starting five who are not returning this year, and their absences loom large.

If the Rams are going to defend their OUA title and return to nationals this season, they’ll have to find ways to combat the gaps left by graduating players Keneca Pingue-Giles, Siki Jez and Mariah Nunes, who provided the brunt of the Rams scoring last year. Pingue-Giles averaged 17.6 points-per-game, while Jez averaged 13.4 and Nunes averaged 12.9 as the trio finished first, third and fourth in team scoring.

Carly Clarke returns for her fifth season as Ryerson’s head coach, and one of her team’s most important tasks will be overcoming the departure of Pingue-Giles. The reigning CIS player of the year helmed the women’s team, leading them in points, assists, field goals made per game, three-pointers made per game and minutes played per game.

Pingue-Giles was the Rams first option on offence, and graduated as a top-five all-time player in team history in several categories, including third in scoring and assists When the shot clock ran down, the Rams could rely on Pingue-Giles to create her own shot and get to the basket. With her gone, there is no definitive number one scorer at the guard position, but the Rams do have options.

Ryerson guard Cara Tiemens averaged 5.6 points and 1.2 assists per game in her sophomore season with the Rams, but will likely play a larger part in the offence this year. What Tiemens shoots threes well, something the Rams struggled to do last season. Ryerson ranked 16th in the Ontario University Athletics (OUA) in both threes attempted and threes made, while finishing 14th in three-point percentage. Tiemens shot 33.3 per cent from three, making 15 of 45 shots.

Tiemens will share guard time with returner C’airah Gabriel-Robinson and Kellie Ring, a fifth-year senior who transferred from the University of Ottawa. Ring is an efficient scorer who shot 42 per cent from the field and averaged 31.3 minutes with the Gee-Gees last season. Gabriel-Robinson averaged 15.3 minutes of time on the court per game last year. Though largely untested, she should fit in just fine, as the addition of Ring means that she likely sits third on the depth chart and won’t be forced into a major scoring role.

If Tiemens can become a primary scorer and Ring picks up where she left off last year, the guards should be able to step out of the shadow cast by Pingue-Giles absence.

The Rams still have Sofia Paska, who had a breakout season last year and is arguably one of the top centers in the OUA.

Paska, who had Ryerson’s second-best points per game rate with 15.2  and a team-leading 9.5 rebounds per game was a force in the post and a consistent double-double threat last season. If Ryerson wants to rank first in the OUA in total rebounds again this year, Paska is going to need to be at her best.

With some new faces and the departure of seniors, there is lots of room for players to step up and earn more minutes in the rotation. Expectations are high and the team’s ceiling is too, as they try to defend their provincial title and earn their first national championship.

The Rams open their season on the road against Laurier on Nov. 5 at 6 pm. Their first home game is Nov. 18 against Nipissing.

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