By Kintaro Skinner
Hosting the U SPORTS Final 8 tournament in March and finishing in fifth place has brought a new perspective for the Ryerson Rams women’s basketball team this season.
Coming into last year’s tournament as an eighth seed, Ryerson lost in the quarter-finals to the No. 1 ranked team in the tournament, the Laval Rouge et Or. But the Rams ended their season claiming the consolation bracket—defeating the five-seeded Regina Cougars and sixth-seeded Acadia Axewomen.
“Going to nationals and hosting was a good opportunity to see how good the other teams were and what we need to do to improve to become one of the best teams in the country,” said Rams forward Jama Bin-Edward.
“Winning last year showed us what we need to do and what we need to work on this season so we can get that national championship this year.”
Bin-Edward, along with guards Marin Scotten and Hayley Robertson are considered the new leaders for the women’s basketball team. They are expected to be a huge focal point offensively as the calendar turns into the new season.
It’s a massive shift after their trio of graduating players, Sofia Paska, Cara Tiemens and Katherine Follis closed out their senior seasons.
All three of them were part of the 2015-16 roster that won the school’s first-ever Ontario University Athletics (OUA) title while also capturing a silver medal at the U SPORTS championship game.
“They were the last remaining players of our OUA championship team so they’re pretty special members and graduates, you know great people that represented our university really well,” said Rams head coach Carly Clarke. “We’ll definitely miss their contributions on and off the floor.”
Paska leaves the program as the most decorated player in program history, and first all-time in points scored and rebounds. This past summer she signed a pro contract to play in Denmark.
“I took something different from each and every one of them, [from Follis it] was her positivity and resilience through everything she’s been through, two ACL [surgeries] and fighting for playing time the whole time that she’s been here,” said Robertson.
“[Paska] was just a dominant force day in and day out, and Cara [Tiemens] was her leadership just by acting and leading by example.”
In Paska’s five seasons, Ryerson’s offense was a well-oiled machine playing through her in the post as she was the Rams inside presence. With her graduating, the Rams style of play is expected to change drastically.
The Rams will be relying on their athleticism and two-way play of many of their third-year players.
Bin-Edward and Scotten came to Ryerson together three years ago and now they’ll be looked at to take the reins of the program.
Scotten averaged 11.3 points per game in her first two years, while Bin-Edward put up 10.1 points last season.
Bin-Edward and Scotten have played together since a young age, winning the under-17 national championship for Team Ontario.
“I was here [when] they started their second year, I’ve just seen [the two] grow as leaders; they’re way more vocal and way more confident,” said Robertson.
Robertson is also entering her fifth and final year, after leading the team in assists last season with 4.3 a game.
The three are expected to start alongside each other in what will be a small but quick and fastbreak heavy lineup.
“We’ve got some dynamic guards that can make plays for themselves and each other, we’ll get contributions from a lot of different people every night, that’s really where we’re shifting to,” said coach Clarke.
“[We’re] playing with some more pace, playing with some more space, shooting more threes.”
Also, starting for the Rams is listed guard Stefanija Mrvaljevic, who has got minutes at the power forward position during Ryerson’s preseason games. At five-foot-ten, Mrvaljevic gives the Rams another multi-dimensional option to flirt with offensively if they elect to go small.
Rounding out the starters is veteran fourth-year forward Bronwyn Williams, who has started in 46 straight games for the team.
“[We have a] different skillset and I feel like we’re working through a different system and it’s just gonna be a lot of change from last year,” said Williams.
Ryerson welcomes five new players this season including guards: Sarai Bailey, Taite Cleland, Ayden Kristmanson, and Kyia Giles and forward Chelsea Arruda.
This is Ryerson’s largest rookie class since 2017, and with that, there is an understanding of what is demanded from the Rams veterans.
“I’ve become more of a leader on this team,” said Bin-Edward. “We have a lot of rookies coming in this year so just showing them what is expected of them when they go on the floor is a really big part of what my role is.”
The loss of Paska, the Rams all-time leader in rebounding, could potentially cause trouble for this team on the glass as it’ll now become a collective effort.
“I think our unselfishness and our willingness to play together will allow our team to pick it up,” said Clarke.
With their new up-tempo style of the play, it will look to benefit second-year forward Rachel Farwell, who led the team in three-point percentage last season. Rams guard Leyki Sorra will be looked at to have a similar impact when it comes to shooting, as she averaged 5.9 three-point attempts a game in the preseason.
This could prove to be valuable considering the direction that coach Clarke is steering this team in.
Though a trip to the U SPORTS Final 8 is not guaranteed like last year, a deep playoff run is what’s always expected from Ryerson and is a goal for this current roster.
“Every year we have the same goal regardless if we’re hosting nationals or not and it’s to win OUAs and get the chance to win the national championship,” said Bin-Edward.
The Rams will open their season at home against the York Lions on Oct. 24. Tip-off is set for 6:00 p.m.