By Libaan Osman
Before being named head coach at Ryerson University in June 2012, Carly Clarke was the women’s basketball head of the University of Prince Edward (UPEI) for three seasons.
Now, she’s preparing for a first round matchup against UPEI at the U Sports Final 8 tournament on Thursday in Ottawa.
“It’s less about actually playing against them, honestly. I’m just really happy for them. It’s been a long road for the program to get back to a championship level,” said Clarke.” “[I’m] thrilled that they’re at [nationals], and we’re there with them.”
This is the first time ever that Ryerson and UPEI will meet in a game.
The Rams, who are coming off a tough loss in the Ontario University Athletics (OUA) championship game against the Brock Badgers, have been seeded third in the tournament while UPEI is entering in as the sixth seed.
UPEI was recently crowned the Atlantic University Sports (AUS) champions for the first time since 1998.
“They are AUS champs. We’re not going to take them lightly”
Led by the strong guard play of Jenna Mae Ellsworth and Reese Baxendale, Ryerson will have their work cut out for them in their quarter-finals matchup.
Ellsworth and Baxendale rank top-four in the AUS in scoring, and were both selected as AUS first-team all-stars. Ellsworth was also named the AUS most valuable player and defensive player this year.
“They are AUS champs. We’re not going to take them lightly. They earned their spots at nationals,” said Rams guard Hayley Robertson. “They have a ton of good players and a really good backcourt. I know that I will have my hands full in the defensive assignment, guarding one of those [players].”
For Ryerson, their season has been defined by resilience. After the season-ending injury of Rams forward Jama Bin-Edward, other players have stepped up to help the team maintain their strong regular season play into the postseason.
Robertson recalls the moment Bin-Edward went down with a knee injury back on Jan. 15 in a road game against Waterloo. She hoped it was just a tweak or a minor injury and that her teammate wouldn’t be sidelined for the rest of the season.
“In losing Jama, we arguably lost our best player,” said Robertson. “She easily could’ve been U Sports player of the year, in my opinion. I think she could be in years to come. Regardless [of] if she gets that award, she’s that good.”
Despite the loss of Bin-Edward, Ryerson’s depth has put other teams on notice. The Rams managed to finish the season ranked amongst some of the best in the OUA when it comes to both offensive and defensive stats.
The team led the league in three-point percentage and defensive rebounds while finishing second in blocks, points allowed and opponents’ field goal percentage.
“If she didn’t step up, I don’t know where we are”
Clarke said she feels that the teams success has been defined by their resiliency and ability to overcome adversity. “Every player has stepped up to every challenge they’ve been faced with.”
One of those players that have stepped up into the spotlight has been Rams sharpshooter Rachel Farwell.
The second-year forward closed out the season first in three-point percentage while scoring in double-digits in nine of her last 10 games. Farwell has also tied a program record for points scored in a game, with 36 on 10-16 shooting from the field on Feb. 15.
“She’s [got] more than one dimension to her game,” said Robertson. “She’s all over the statsheet. She has really stepped up for us big time. If she didn’t step up, I don’t know where we are.”
Ryerson will look for Farwell and other players to contribute in hopes of capturing their first-ever national championship.
The Rams are set to take on UPEI Thursday. A win would set them up in a potential semi-finals matchup against either Brock or the Calgary Dinos on March 7.
UP NEXT: The journey officially begins on March 5 for Ryerson as they open the U Sports Final 8 tournament versus UPEI. Tip-off is set for 1:00 p.m. Stay tuned to The Eyeopener’s coverage as we follow the team in Ottawa this week.