Ryerson women’s basketball team wins silver and makes history

(Courtesy James West Photography for CIS)

Rams’ Mariah Nunes dribbles the ball away from McGill during the CIS semifinal game. (Courtesy James West Photography for CIS)

The Ryerson women’s basketball team made history this year by being the school’s first team to make it to the final championship game at the national level.

Unfortunately for the Rams, they lost a close game to the University of Saskatchewan 85-71, and won silver.

The team had an underdog run throughout the Canadian Interuniversity Sport (CIS) championship. Although they won gold at the Ontario University Athletics (OUA), the Rams entered the CIS tournament in Fredericton seeded fifth of eight teams.

After grabbing a win against the No. 4-ranked University of Regina in the quarter-finals and dominating the No.1 McGill Martlets in the semifinals, the Rams couldn’t get the upper edge on the No. 2-ranked Saskatchewan.

“We played pretty hard throughout the whole season and it is … the best finish in program history, so there’s a lot we should be proud about,” said CIS player of the year Keneca Pingue-Giles just after she’d played her last game as a Ryerson Ram.

At every game during the tournament, the Rams Pack – an energized, excited and often rowdy group of students who flew out to Fredericton to cheer on the Rams – set up behind one of the baskets. Dressed in blue and gold and wielding signs, the Pack chanted phrases such as “MVP!” and “We love Siki!” for tournament all-stars Pingue-Giles and Silvana “Siki” Jez.

The Rams Pack “gave so much energy. We can’t thank them enough for coming all this way,” said Carly Clarke, Ryerson’s head coach.

Pingue-Giles, Jez and Mariah Nunes – three of the team’s starters – will graduate from Ryerson this year. The three of them combined got 37 of the team’s 71 points in the final game. Pingue-Giles plans to play professionally next year although she hasn’t said for whom.

“They seem to be in great spirits now with the accomplishments” Clarke said. “They’ve been incredibly impactful, they’ve left a huge legacy on our program and on Ryerson athletics that will be remembered for a very, very long time. I think they recognize that impact and are proud of everything they’ve accomplished during their time with us.”

Cara Tiemens and Sofia Paska are the two starters remaining on the team for next year, both in their second year. They scored eight and 12 points respectively during the final match and will remain as starters next year.

“Coming in as a rookie and going to nationals two years in a row and winning an OUA championship is definitely exciting, but we’re going to have to keep it up for the next few years after this one,” Tiemens said.

Clarke said she is optimistic about Tiemens and Paska, as well as other players on the team, stepping up to fill the leadership role.

“They have (gotten) great experience over the past couple of years and will only flourish from that,” Clarke said.

She said that leadership development for returning players will begin in the off-season to emphasize high standards and to discuss how to build the team’s culture.

Building culture is important to Ryerson athletics, since Ryerson is a relatively new university. Although past Ryerson varsity teams have come close to winning a CIS title, this year’s women’s basketball team has been the most successful, being the first to win more than a bronze medal.

Richard Dean, who works in Ryerson’s campus facilities and sustainability department, used to be on the coaching team for both the men’s and women’s basketball teams during his 17-year career at Ryerson. He said that, given the team’s hard work this year, a good run in the CIS championship was inevitable.

“You knew they had that greatness in them,” Dean said. “It was just a matter of time before this happened at Ryerson.”

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