By Ilyas Hussein
After capping off an undefeated run in their exhibition schedule on Oct. 30, the Rams women’s basketball team is turning its focus to the regular season, which tips-off on Nov. 5.
While the preseason results won’t count on their record, the Rams earned a statement victory over the defending U Sports national champions, the University of Saskatchewan Huskies, on Oct. 24. After a year away, the players are chomping at the bit to get back on the court.
“Just thrilled to be back playing again, we all missed it during the year away,” said Rams head coach Carly Clarke.
The Rams head into the season with a mix of new and returning players on their roster. Third-year guard Rachel Farwell, who led Ontario University Athletics (OUA) in three-point percentage in the 2019-20 season, will play a key role for the team. The Rams also welcomed back fourth-year guard Marin Scotten, who was selected as an OUA Second Team All-Star in 2020.
Fourth-year forward Stefanija Mrvaljevic will also be back with the team. Elsewhere in the lineup, former OUA Third Team All-Star Jama Bin-Edward continues to work her way back to game action after suffering an ACL injury that ended her 2019-20 season.
The Rams will feature nine new faces this year, some of which have never experienced playing in a U Sports regular season game. One newcomer is guard Kaillie Hall, who was drawn to the team’s high energy.
“Everyone is really pumped to be in a competitive training environment and to get to play together as a group,” said Hall.
Another fresh face to the squad is Tiya Misir. The third-year guard transferred to Ryerson from Long Island University in June 2020.
“A very good word to describe our team is intense. Everybody is just like a tiger, we all go out with the same mentality, we all expect to win and we’re all very competitive,” said Misir.
Another notable addition for the Rams during the pandemic is fifth-year guard Mikaela Dodig. Hailing from Bolton Ont., she joined the team in 2020 after four years at the University of New Brunswick (UNB). Dodig’s resume includes being named an Atlantic University Sport All-Star twice and a two-time team MVP for UNB.
“Everybody is like a tiger, we go all out with the same mentality, we all expect to win and we’re all very competitive”
Rounding out the Rams is head coach Clarke. She is a decorated bench boss and has been the assistant coach for Canada’s senior women’s national team since 2017. But even with her wealth of coaching experience, she’s expecting some challenges this upcoming season.
“The long layoff has meant we need to return to play and high-level competition properly,” said Clarke. “That means ensuring we mentally and physically take care of our student athletes as it is a big change from the routine of the last 18 months.”
For Hall, Misir and many other student athletes, the 18 months prior to training camp have been difficult. The long hiatus has left many eager for the opportunity to play the sport they adore again.
“It was probably one of the darkest times I have had with basketball, to be honest. It’s my identity and not being able to play or be around my teammates was really hard for me,” said Misir.
“A lot of times you find comfort in your sport, your routines, being around great people and having a collective family built-in with basketball and not having that was tough,” said Hall.
For some of the players, being on the court in an official match for the first time in over a year felt bizarre.
“Not being able to play or be around my teammates was really hard for me”
“It was a bit overwhelming to actually be playing in a game again, so it just took me a while to let that sink in,” said Misir.
The process for playing their respective sport this year will be unlike any other due to the looming threat of another COVID-19 outbreak, which could put a wrench in the team’s plans for an uninterrupted season. Nonetheless, one of the biggest challenges is learning how to acclimate to unprecedented circumstances throughout the season.
“We are fortunate to have some strong leadership to help guide our new players, so that is helping them learn and adapt quickly,” said Clarke.
The leaders of the squad have taken a large step in bringing the new players under their wings so that eventually they can become leaders for others in the future.
The team is heading into the year with optimistic expectations for themselves. During the preseason, one message was passed around, which has helped keep the group concentrated on their goal.
“We’ve been saying, ‘Let’s focus on us, let’s focus on our growth, let’s focus on what we can do.’ Hopefully, all of that will carry into a great OUA season,” said Hall.
The Rams’ undefeated run in the preseason has helped establish greater spirits for the team. However, that also comes with higher standards.
“We have had some successful moments in preseason, so hopefully that is building some confidence for what our team is capable of,” Clarke added.
Regardless of how the season turns out for the Rams, players, fans and coaches are all excited to see women’s basketball return this fall.
“This year is going to be special,” said Hall.
The Rams women’s basketball team have their season opener on Nov. 5 against the Queen’s Gaels at the Mattamy Athletic Centre (MAC). Tip-off is set for 6 p.m.