Retooled Ryerson women’s basketball team looks to make a championship push

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By Donald Higney

Last year, the Ryerson women’s basketball team came the closest to winning the Critelli Cup since their last appearance in 2016, which ended in an away win over the University of Ottawa. 

With a record of 18-4, they beat Queen’s University at home in the first round and came back against Ottawa on the road to host the OUA’s championship game at the Mattamy Athletic Centre. 

Unfortunately for Ryerson, Brock’s Sam Keltos had other plans. The forward put up a career-high 42 points and brought down 12 rebounds, helping the Brock Badgers snatch the Critelli Cup on Ryerson’s home court. 

Forward Rachel Farwell was put out on an injury that game as well, hampering Ryerson’s chances to make noise at the national championships in Ottawa. They would go on to lose to the University of Prince Edward Island (UPEI) in the U Sports Final 8 quarterfinals. 

“We certainly left it out on the floor, we asked a lot of everybody that was available,” said head coach Carly Clarke.  

Looking into 2021 and beyond, Clarke said the Rams are looking to build off their 2020 success. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Ontario government restricted indoor sports which halted practices. Ontario University Athletics (OUA) also canceled sanctioned games and championships until March 31. 

Despite these challenges, the women’s basketball program was able to bring in one of the most impressive recruiting classes with six new players. 

High school additions  

Ryerson’s first recruit this off-season was Haley Fedick, a six-foot-two forward from Sherwood Park, Alta. 

Fedick considered the University of Alberta because of its proximity to home, with the additional benefit of her sister also being on the team. She chose Ryerson in the end because of her fit on the team and her relationship with Clarke. 

“My relationship with my coach is a big thing for me. Carly really cares about that aspect as well as basketball,” said Fedick. “I think that was a big pull for me, just knowing that she will always have our backs and genuinely care about us.”  

Fedick likes to get down the court fast to play in transition and can stay close to the rim, as well as space out behind the arc.  

Fedick received guidance during practices from fellow forwards Stefanija Mrvaljevic and Bronwyn Williams. Practices stopped in late October due to Ontario’s updated COVID-19 guidelines. 

The second high school recruit to commit to Ryerson was Laneigh Shirley, a five-foot-ten forward from Sarnia, Ont. She also chose Ryerson because of Clarke’s influence, as well as Toronto’s downtown core.  

“I love Toronto, and Ryerson was downtown,” said Shirley. 

Shirley prides herself on being an energetic player on the defensive end, especially when it comes to guarding key players on the other team or grabbing rebounds.   

“I’m looking forward to knowing what I’m able to do on the university level,” said Shirley. “Then once I see what I’m maybe not so good at, I can start to improve on that and just see how a challenge can bring out the best in me.”  

Ryerson’s third and final recruit from high school was Jayme Foreman, a five-foot-nine shooting guard from Hamilton, Ont.   

Foreman was an Ontario Scholastic Basketball Association (OSBA) Second-Team All-Star and played for Team Ontario at the 2019 under-17 National Championships. She also played on Kia Nurse Elite, named after the Canadian WNBA star of the New York Liberty. 

Like Fedick, Foreman prefers to play fast and to space the floor.  

NCAA transfers 

Ryerson’s first of two transfers from the National Collegiate Athletic Association’s (NCAA) Division I was Kaillie Hall, a five-foot-ten guard from Bowling Green State University in Ohio. She appeared in 22 games in her rookie year for the Falcons.   

Ryerson offered everything she was looking for in a university experience: an optimal location, a great coach, a competitive team with a winning culture and the opportunity to study something she could enjoy: the sport media program.

Hall likes to drive to the basket to get a good shot for her or a teammate, as well as play great defence. 

The second NCAA transfer was Tiya Misir, a five-foot-three point guard from Long Island University in New York. She played two seasons with the Sharks, racking up over 100 points, 60 assists and 20 steals. 

Although Misir always aimed to play in the United States, the absence of her family and a coaching staff change at Long Island University made Ryerson the next best option for the Scarborough, Ont. local. 

“I never wanted to actually stay and play in Canada, but I always said to myself, ‘If there was one coach that I would want to play for, it would be Carly and it would have to be at Ryerson,’” said Misir. 

Another draw was the familiarity with the players on the team. Misir played basketball in high school at Bill Crothers Secondary School in Markham, Ont. with fourth-year guard Leyki Sorra, former guard Hayley Robertson and fellow new addition Mikaela Dodig. She also played with forward Rachel Farwell at national team tryouts. 

Misir is a competitor on the defensive side of the court and plays intensely. She also wants to be a leader on the team, and shows that through her play on and off the court. 

“I feel like that will motivate and inspire the girls to want to win just as much as I do,” said Misir. “Just light the fire [in my teammates] that I bring every day.” 

U Sports addition 

Ryerson’s sixth and final addition to the team is monumental. Two-time Atlantic University Sport (AUS) all-star Mikaela Dodig joined the team as a graduate player, pursuing her master’s of science in management, after spending four seasons at the University of New Brunswick (UNB).  

Ryerson was Dodig’s second choice of school before picking UNB, but this time she couldn’t say no. She chose Ryerson over academic and basketball programs at UNB, McMaster and Saskatchewan, where her sister also plays. 

“Ryerson just kind of touched all aspects of school, basketball and community with the girls on the team,” said Dodig.   

Dodig played with Robertson and Misir in high school, forwards Emma Fraser and Bronwyn Williams with the North Toronto Huskies, and guard Marin Scotten. Clarke also coached her with the junior national team.  

Dodig’s strengths as a player are also on the defensive end. She averaged 14.6 points per game in her last season with the Reds.  

Looking forward

Clarke has achieved more at Ryerson than anyone else in the program’s history. However, one thing has eluded her: a national championship. With this recruiting class, Clarke hopes to change that. 

For her, one of the keys to success at this level is elite point guard play; arguably the game’s most important position.

“We’ve had strong point guards, which makes a big, big difference with the success of the team,” Clarke said. “We knew we needed to continue to bolster our depth and our talent at that position and was certainly a priority for us in the short and long term.” 

Beyond point guards, Clarke is excited about the strong potential the rest of this class brings to her program. 

“I think they all fit our style of play,” Clarke said. “We take a lot of pride in defence, we share and move the ball as a team on offence, and we like to play with a lot of pace. So we’re always looking for players that fit into the type of system that we want to play with.”  

Regardless of the outcome of last year’s playoffs, the team is looking forward to growing and continuing to compete for championships. 

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