By Chris Blanchette
Ryerson Rams (2nd OUA East, 13-6) vs York Lions (4th OUA East, 5-14)
Game 1: Wednesday, Feb. 22 at 6 p.m. @ Mattamy Athletic Centre
Season Series vs York: 2-0
Points Scored: 135
Points Allowed: 112
For the Ryerson women’s basketball team, the real road back to the U Sports championship begins Wednesday night in Toronto when they host the York Lions in the first round of the Ontario University Athletics (OUA) playoffs. One year removed from the program’s first OUA championship and a national silver medal, the Rams enter the postseason with elite aspirations, but face a more difficult path to nationals than last year.
Even before the season began, the usual questions and concerns that plague even the best U Sports teams were especially prevalent for this year’s Rams squad.
With the departure of players like CIS player of the year Keneca Pingue-Giles—arguably the best women’s basketball player in Ryerson history—and other seniors like Siki Jez and Mariah Nunes, it was clear that the Rams were certainly not going to be the same team that captured a CIS silver medal one year prior.
But with head coach Carly Clarke once again at the helm, it seems this year’s team is hoping their best is yet to come.
While the Rams ended the OUA regular season with a 13-6 record and finished as the No. 10 ranked team in the country—both steps back from last season—they are far more impressive than their record suggests.
Including both OUA and non-OUA games, the Rams played a total of nine contests against nationally ranked opponents this year. Those games surely made for an experienced and tested team, but the Rams were 2-7 in those games. To find those two wins, you would have to travel back to Dec. 3, when they defeated the No. 7 ranked Windsor Lancers, and even further back to their Oct. 22 victory over the current No. 8 ranked Saskatchewan Huskies.
While those stats may seem dreadful, there is upside to be found in some other box scores. Against the No. 2 ranked McMaster Marauders, the Rams dropped two extremely close contests: a 55-47 loss in the Darcel Wright Memorial championship game and more recently a 76-74 loss at home that came at the hands of a controversial last-second foul call.
On Feb. 3, Ryerson lost a heartbreaking game to Queen’s by one point and last weekend the Rams took Carleton to overtime where they lost another nail-biter. So while the 13-6 record that the Rams mustered this season may not look fantastic given what last year’s team was able to accomplish, this Rams team still packs a punch. That punch is of course led by the scoring duo of Sofia Paska and Kellie Ring.
Over the course of this season, Ring and Paska have been a dominant force and Ryerson’s main scoring options on offense. Paska – the six-foot-four centre, is averaging a double-double with 18.5 points-per-game and 10.4 rebounds-per-game. Ring, a fifth-year senior who was on the Ottawa Gee-Gees squad that lost to the Rams in last year’s OUA final, is averaging 14.6 points, 6.8 rebounds and 4.3 assists.
While many teams have turned to the three-ball as a large source of offense, the Rams still play an old-school style of crash and slash. At 19.4 attempts per-game, Ryerson ranks third in free throws attempted and fourth in free throws made. Couple that with the teams rebounding ability, an area of the game that no team in the OUA was better at this season, and the Rams’ tenacious and hard-working playing style will be a lot for York to handle.
The Lions are led by Ishanaa Seupersadsingh, who averages 10.5 points a game, and Shauney Fischer, who averages 10.7 points. Ryerson emerged victorious in both regular season meetings with York this year, thanks to extremely strong games from Paska. She set a career high with 28 points in their most recent match-up, a 71-61 come-from-behind win on Feb. 1.
It’s worth noting that the Rams secured a first-round bye and home court advantage in the second round last season. They have neither of those luxuries this year. But that shouldn’t change their approach heading into Wednesday’s game, especially after two tough losses to national powerhouses Carleton and Ottawa this past weekend. The winner of Wednesday’s game will travel to Windsor to play the Lancers on Saturday, Feb. 25.
Ryerson’s road back to the national championship will be long and full of adversity, and you can catch the start of it on Wednesday, Feb. 22 at 6 p.m. at the Mattamy Athletic Centre.