By Jack MacCool
The Rams women’s basketball team’s undefeated journey to the 2022 U Sports National Championship started long before the opening game of the regular season. Dating back to February 2020, weeks before COVID-19 was declared a global pandemic, the Rams saw title aspirations slip through their fingers when they lost the Ontario University Athletics (OUA) Critelli Cup final to the Brock Badgers 84-71.
At the time, nobody knew it would be the final OUA basketball game until November 2021. Nor did they realize it would be the last loss the team suffered before winning a national championship.
This is the journey that led the team from their February 2020 loss to becoming the 2022 U Sports National Champions.
Feb. 29, 2020: Rams lose the OUA title to Brock
The Mattamy Athletic Centre (MAC) was packed with roaring fans when the third seed Rams played host to the fourth seed Brock Badgers in the OUA final. The Rams entered the title game with an 18-5 record with hopes of hoisting the Critelli Cup in front of their home crowd. Brock played the role of spoiler, beating them 84-71 on the shoulders of a 42 point explosion from forward Samantha Keltos.
This would act as fuel for the Rams as they hoped to avenge the loss the following season. Little did they know they wouldn’t play another game for almost two years.
COVID-19 sinks 2020-21 season
Only 12 days removed from the OUA final defeat, the World Health Organization (WHO) declared the COVID-19 outbreak a pandemic. Later in the year, during the fall of 2020, the OUA announced the cancellation of all sanctioned programming and championships until March 31, 2021. For the Rams, this meant that a chance at redemption had to wait.
Return to action with a pair of massive preseason victories
The Rams finally got their feet back on the hardwood and in game action on Oct. 16, 2021, and the result would foreshadow the season to come.
In their first preseason matchup, the Rams got a small taste of revenge when they picked up a 62-61 exhibition win over Brock in a closely contested game. Their official revenge would have to wait as the OUA introduced two conferences due to the pandemic, making another matchup with Brock only possible if they both reached the OUA final.
The Rams also managed to secure a win over the 2020 national champion Saskatchewan Huskies, 80-71, in the Darcel Wright Memorial Classic. Though they wouldn’t meet the Huskies again, this win proved they could compete with anyone in the nation.
OUA welcomes regular season action back to the Mattamy Athletic Centre
The Rams first taste of regular season action came in a home-opener against the eventual 2021-22 U Sports bronze medallists, the Queen’s Gaels. The Rams’ undefeated run to the title started with a 68-65 victory, in a very competitive matchup.
The team was without one of its stars, Jama Bin-Edward, but a combined 54 points from Mikaela Dodig, Rachel Farwell and Marin Scotten propelled the Rams to their first win of the year.
Dodig’s clutch play helped seal the Rams win late in the game, when she hit a pair of three-pointers down the stretch. The “Dodig Dagger” would become synonymous with the squad all year long.
Rams roll until COVID-19 once again halts season
The squad brought its win total to six, with multiple dominant victories over Nipissing and Ontario Tech as well as another against Queen’s. But with rising numbers of COVID-19 cases in the province, the OUA was forced to suspend the season on Dec. 17. This campaign suspension threw a wrench in the Rams’ momentum and prevented them from returning to action until February, as the OUA and province dealt with the spread of the virus. Once the season restarted, any doubts this pause would derail the team’s momentum disappeared.
Rams return in big way, dominate crosstown rival
The Rams arrival back to competitive basketball saw them dominate both the University of Toronto and York University by a combined 131 points in four matchups. They didn’t miss a beat, extending their undefeated record to 10-0.
Ottawa roady a valuable experience heading into postseason
Perhaps the climax of the Rams’ regular season came when they travelled to Montpetit Hall to take on the third place Ottawa Gee-Gees in a pivotal back-to-back.
The Rams battled through late game deficits with adversity en route to picking up wins in both games, 51-50 and 51-43.
The Rams got massive contributions from Dodig in both games, leading the team in scoring in game one and tallying eight rebounds and eight assists in the second. These two contests set the stage for a strong end to the season as they looked toward the OUA playoffs and another chance at winning the Critelli Cup.
Perfect regular season leads into a perfect playoffs
After destroying the Laurentian Voyageurs twice to top off a perfect 14-0 regular season, the Rams took on the Queen’s Gaels in the first round of the OUA playoffs, coming away with a 67-58 win on the back of their strong defence. This gave the squad its third win over the Gaels in the year.
It also saw them advance to the next round where they faced the Carleton Ravens for a chance at booking their ticket to the 2022 OUA final.
In the OUA semi-finals, the Ravens pushed the Rams early, but their talent and depth prevailed as they picked up a 62-47 win, marking the eighth of 11 times they held their opponents under 50 points in the year.
The win locked them into an OUA championship berth two years in the making.
The comeback of all comebacks
After 756 days, the Rams finally got their wish of avenging the 2020 title loss to Brock, only this time they would have to duke it out with the Badgers on the road in St. Catherines, Ont. The game couldn’t have started worse for the Rams, as they trailed by nine points after the first quarter, 11 at the half and 16 entering the final frame, having converted on just one three pointer in 24 attempts.
Things went from bad to worse when the deficit swelled to 22 points with seven minutes to play. When things looked like they were at their most bleak, the Rams pulled off the unimaginable. They increased their intensity, ramped up their defence and got steal after steal with their full court press. Suddenly what looked like an insurmountable lead had shrunk to only three points. Then, with 1:19 on the clock, Dodig splashed a three-pointer to tie the game and force overtime.
Riding the wave of momentum they had at the end of regulation, the Rams outscored Brock 5-3 in the overtime period to secure not only the OUA title, but redemption for their shortcomings two years prior.
Rams rise to the occasion at U Sports Final 8
Riding the high of arguably the greatest comeback in U Sports history, the Rams’ sights were set on completing the perfect season and capturing national championship gold. Entering the tournament after such an impressive win, the Rams were selected as the number one seed heading into the last stretch of the season.
In their first matchup, the Rams took on the University of Prince Edward Island Panthers who they defeated with ease by a score of 80-49. The win sent the Rams into the semi-final of the tournament where they once again faced the Badgers.
This time the Badgers wouldn’t see the same sort of success they did in the OUA final, as the game was hotly contested the entire way. It saw seven lead changes and no lead bigger than five and once again the two teams needed an overtime frame to decide the victor.
The Rams mitigated the threats Brock provided in the OUA final, and showed their championship mettle, executing perfectly down the stretch to come away with the win. It helped preserve their undefeated record heading into the national championship game against the University of Winnipeg Wesmen of the Canada West Conference.
20-0: The perfect season
It was clear from the opening minutes that the Rams wouldn’t be denied from achieving their goal.
They came into the game with a clear plan: win at any cost. The Rams led by 10 at the end of the first quarter, with Farwell and Dodig scoring eight points each.
Entering the game, the Rams had to deal with the 2022 U Sports Player of The Year Keylyn Filewich who averaged 17.3 points and 10.5 rebounds in the regular season. The Rams defence was exceptional, holding Filewich to just ten points on nine shot attempts while holding the Wesmen to just 48 points in the game. When the final buzzer sounded, reality began to set in.
Everything the Rams women’s basketball team had worked for since 2020 came to fruition. They completed the perfect season, avenged their OUA final loss to Brock, overcame obstacles, battled back from the largest of deficits—and now they had everything to show for it.
They’ll go down in the history books at Ryerson as well as in U Sports as one of the greatest teams ever assembled.
UP NEXT: As one chapter ends, another season is on the horizon. But first it’s championship summer.