By Ilyas Hussein
The Toronto Metropolitan University (TMU) Bold women’s basketball team looks to write a new chapter to their program’s history this season with fresh faces joining aboard the ship set to begin its course on Nov. 3.
After being eliminated from the Ontario University Athletics (OUA) playoffs last season at the hands of eventual national champions, the Carleton Ravens, the squad has seen some serious turnover.
Former OUA all-star Rachel Farwell graduated alongside Eleanor Jones, Tiya Misir and Eve Uwayesu. All four were contributors for the team last season and their departures left a hole in the squad.
As a result, Bold head coach Carly Clarke sought to fill the gap by recruiting six first-year players for the upcoming season.
“We recruit players that match our vision and are big-time competitors,” said Clarke.
Of these first-year players, four are forwards—Hailey Franco-DeRyck, Hannah Watson, Corynn Parker and Ailani Curvan, while two are guards–Catrina Garvey and Alex Pino.
With the youthful squad, the rookies have already been thrown into the fire as the opportunity for more playing time has presented itself.
“I want to compete [on] every possession…try my best at all times and encourage my teammates to do the same,” said Garvey.
In the pre-season, Clarke has showcased her trust in the new young players with Garvey and Parker being involved in the starting lineup with others being featured off the bench. Garvey took advantage of this opportunity and has been a bright spot for the Bold in exhibition.
“I’ve personally learned how to be more patient [in the pre-season] and take my time when it comes to certain things on offence,” said Garvey.
During the Darcel Wright Memorial Classic tournament, the Ottawa product dropped 30 and 24 points against the University of Victoria Vikes and Saskatchewan Huskies respectively, leading the team in scoring.
Garvey’s success in the pre-season was highlighted by her willingness to shoot from beyond the arc.
“They can shoot the ball for sure,” said Clarke about the first-year players. “The competitiveness they come with [stands out]. They love playing and they love to get better. They want to learn and I think there’s a craving for that.”
On the other hand, the experienced players on the team are stepping into a leadership role. Fourth-year guard Kaillie Hall was one of the younger players on the team when they won the national championship in the 2021-22 season. Now, two years later, she’s a veteran.
“It’s awesome being able to have a little bit of that leadership, older sister role for them,” said Hall. “I don’t think our age or anything looks different in the way we play.”
The Bold played in three separate tournaments across the country in the pre-season—the Laurentian Tournament, the Alberta Tournament and the Darcel Wright Memorial Classic.
In the first two competitions, the Bold had a 1-6 combined record losing by an average of 13 points.
“[With] learning how to play together with a lot of new faces comes new structure [and] different styles of play. So, just really understanding how to align and get on the same page was probably the biggest thing,” said Hall about the challenges the team faced early in the pre-season.
However, when the Bold returned to the Mattamy Athletic Centre (MAC) for their final exhibition tune-up, they went on to the finals and pushed a talented Saskatchewan side—finishing in second with a 73-57 loss in the gold medal game.
Over the course of the pre-season, their improvement has been clear and the team looks to continue the linear progression when the ball tips off for the regular season.
“We’re the best at getting better. Our goal every day is to figure out and continue to find ways to get better and be the team individually and collectively that does that the best,” said Clarke.
To start the season, the Bold will be without second-year guard Kait Nichols, who suffered a knee injury midway through last season. In nine games last year, Nichols averaged nearly 10 rebounds per game.
Nichols’ tenacity on the court was an asset for Clarke, but the team will have to try to match that grit as she’s out with injury for longer.
“You’re trying to have your veterans, experienced players [and] coaching staff model the standards we expect,” said Clarke.
For the Bold, they have an opportunity to learn what it takes to go against the best of the best.
The Bold will also go against the University of Connecticut (UConn) Huskies, a powerhouse in the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA), in an exhibition match on Dec. 20 at the MAC.
The UConn Huskies are the most successful women’s basketball program in the United States, with a record of 11 NCAA Division I National Championships. The Huskies haven’t captured the title in over seven years, but have made the semi-finals of the national tournament six times since then.
The usual rink at the MAC is set to convert into a court that can fit the rabid Huskies fans from south of the border.
“It’s a super unique experience and those are the types of experiences our program takes a lot of pride in,” said Clarke. “To host a team like that on our home court in front of a sold-out crowd is going to be a memorable experience for everyone.”
With all of the lessons that come with a new season, the Bold prepare to take on the challenges the journey will take them on. From learning from mistakes, having an “exciting” home opener and getting a chance to face off against a powerhouse from across the border, Clarke’s mantra stays the same: “Getting better every day.”
While the enthusiasm for the season builds, the ship that is the 2023-24 season is set to sail on opening night against the Lakehead Thunderwolves at 6 p.m. at the MAC. Clarke captains the crew as they prepare to take on the year’s rough seas and find the theme of its chapter.
“Everyone is pretty fired up,” said Hall.