Rams looking for redemption, championship as postseason journey begins

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By Matthew Davison

The Rams women’s basketball team will embark on its Ontario University Athletics (OUA) playoff journey this Saturday, looking to back up a perfect 14-0 regular season.

There are towering expectations for the squad, which is widely regarded as one of the most talented rosters in program history.

“We’ve got a really great group of people and players that are all committed to the same goal,” Rams head coach Carly Clarke said of her team. “They have a similar passion and work ethic and all get along really, really well.”

A hallmark of this undefeated team is their standout defence, leading the OUA with only 50 points allowed per game in the regular season.

“A lot of players are eager to get the chance again, but also they know it’s a different team and a different year”

Clarke, one of the nation’s best defensive-minded coaches, has employed a structure that requires an intense and relentless style.

“We know that our offence stems from our defence, and our energy comes from our defence,” Clarke said.

One of the key players in the Rams defence has been fifth-year guard Mikaela Dodig, who was a two-time All-Star at the University of New Brunswick. Clarke marvelled at the guard’s adaptability to be the primary scorer, distribute the ball to her teammates or even defend the opponent’s top guard—adapting to what the team needs on a given night. 

Dodig has been the team’s most valuable player this season, ranking top 10 in assists and steals and is second in minutes per game in the OUA. She is joined by Kyia Giles, a recruit that has become a key starter for the Rams. Giles had not been on the court since 2019 because of a devastating ACL tear that occurred during the U Sports Final 8 National Championship, while she was playing at the University of Regina. She fought back from injury to be on the biggest stage in these upcoming playoffs. 

Dodig and Giles star alongside the returning core of Marin Scotten, Rachel Farwell, Jama Bin-Edward and Stefanija Mrvaljevic, who have all experienced the ups and the downs of wearing the blue and gold. They led the Rams to the Critelli Cup final and U Sports Final 8 National Championship Tournament during the 2019-20 season, but were unable to bring home hardware at either event.

This season, Farwell has been a central piece to the team, both on offence and defence. She ranks in the top 10 in the OUA for blocks. The junior also shot the ball from beyond the arc at a much lower rate than the 2019-20 campaign, in which she led the league in three-point percentage at 47 per cent. This season, that number has dropped to just under 30 per cent. 

Mrvaljevic has been described by her coach as the “glue” that keeps the team together. She is a mid-range threat, sporting a league-best 53.3 field goal percentage, while also adding stability and leadership.

Bin-Edward suffered a severe injury that kept her out of the latter part of the 2019-20 campaign and the playoffs—a season where she was posting MVP-calibre numbers. The versatile forward had her recovery process and surgery delayed by the pandemic, but finally made her return to the court this season in late November. Bin Edward played only two games before the OUA season was halted in December. She was unsure if that meant the end of her OUA career.

“Oh my gosh, I just worked so hard for so long,” she recalled thinking. “I just worked hard for 14 months to come back for a game and then the season could just be cut.”

Bin-Edward will be considered one of the most talented and high-IQ players ever to wear the Rams uniform after she graduates. Clarke said she believes her versatility greatly adds to the team.

“I think she’s the best defensive player in the conference. She literally can guard every position and her length, her speed and her instincts just impact plays all over the floor.”

Rounding out the Rams’ key returnees is Scotten who, during her four years with the program, has become one of the most prolific players in its history. Scotten finished her regular-season career with the Rams 40 points short of the 1,000 point mark, which ranks her seventh all-time in program history. Her 124 three-point baskets place her fourth all-time and her 149 assists rank her tenth all-time.

“I just worked hard for 14 months to come back for a game and then the season could just be cut”

She was averaging 11.2 points in 10 games prior to an injury sustained against the University of Toronto Varsity Blues last month. The Rams hope to get their star guard back as she often drives the offence, opening up the floor for her teammates.

Elsewhere in the lineup, the Rams are complemented by depth that adds great flexibility to the roster. Clarke and her staff added two guards from Division I schools in the U.S. in Kaillie Hall and Tiya Misir. Hall is a relentless defender who is unafraid to drive the basket and draw contact on the offensive end, while Misir is a spark plug player who pushes the pace whenever she steps onto the floor. 

The emergence of Eve Ewayesu has been impressive and a key talking point around the Mattamy Athletic Centre (MAC) as of late. Clarke described her as a great creator and defender who adds depth and versatility to the team. 

Adding size to the squad are forwards Eleanor Jones—who played in her first OUA regular season since an injury held her out of conference play during the 2019-20 campaign and Haley Fedick, who is also a threat from the three-point range. 

“They have a similar passion and work ethic and all get along really, really well

The Rams, who earned a first-round bye, will host the Queen’s Gaels in the OUA quarter-final on Saturday. The Gaels are coming off a 74-65 win over the York Lions in their first postseason test on Wednesday. The Rams beat the Gaels in their opening game of the season with the help of two clutch three-pointers made by Dodig in the final two minutes to secure a 68-65 win.

Each of the Rams players have something to prove in these playoffs and are motivated by the disappointing end to the 2019-20 season. 

“It’s redemption for a lot of reasons. A lot of players are eager to get the chance again, but also they know it’s a different team and a different year,” Clarke said. “They’re inspired to get back there for a variety of reasons.”

“The primary one is less about the past, and more just about the present and determination to do it with this group of people and this team.”

UP NEXT: The Rams will play the Queen’s Gaels in the OUA quarter-finals on Saturday. Tip-off is set for 6 p.m. at the MAC.

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