The McMaster Marauders claimed the women’s basketball national championship on Sunday night at the Mattamy Athletic Centre.
The Marauders, who came in as the No. 2 ranked team, beat the No. 1 seed Laval Rouge et Or 70-58 to claim gold.
The game was as advertised for two of the best in the country, hard fought and with no team giving an edge early on.
The back-and-forth first quarter ending with McMaster up 11-10.
Laval bounced back in the second, led by USports player of the year, Sarah-Jane Marois, who dropped 13 points in the second to put Laval up 33-27 heading into the half.
Despite the deficit and the formidable Laval team on other other side, McMaster’s Linnaea Harper said her team’s confidence didn’t waver.
“Honestly, we were a little intimidated,” Harper said. “Laval was a very good team. They can score, they’re drive-and-kick, they’re fast like us. It was a little intimidating, but once we stepped on the court and came out with our defensive intensity, we were like, ‘we got this.’ At halftime, we thought we got this.”
That confidence was on full display as McMaster had a dominant third quarter, holding Laval to only two made field goals.
The pushback from the Marauders set the stage for a winner-take-all fourth quarter with the score tied 44-44.
Marauders coach Theresa Burns said she preached to her players before and during the game to just have fun and enjoy the moment.
“That was our message last night and this morning and at halftime and in the timeouts: just keep having fun out there and enjoy the moment,” Burns said. “No matter what happens, this is amazing. You need to soak it up and enjoy the moment.”
Based off their fourth quarter performance it was clear they were having fun, McMaster ran away with the gold in the fourth, outscoring Laval 26-14 and claiming the national title.
Harper, playing in her final USports game, led the way, scoring eight points in the final five minutes of the decisive quarter.
“It feels like a dream,” said Harper, named the tournament’s most valuable player. “I can’t believe we won the national championship. Unbelievable, to be able to do this after five years, in my last year. It’s so amazing.”
For coach Burns the championship was extra special as she finally won the big one after 26 years of coaching. She gave all the credit to her “special” group of players.
“I think we just believed we could do it… They believe in each other, it’s like absolutely unshakable. I’ve had a lot of teams that support each other and believe in each other but this group takes it to a different level,” Burns said.
For Laval it was a crushing defeat, but coach Guillaume Giroux said he was extremely proud of his team’s effort.
“At the end of the game I told them I was proud of them. I think we got 29-2 on the season. They fought well; I’m really proud of that group,” Giroux said. “I know it’s not what they expected but at least we won our province (championship) and did OK at nationals.”
In the end the Marauders did what they had to and coach Burns said their resilience was a key factor to them bringing home the first national title in program history.
“The game plan is to always be as tough as we can be defensively, stay positive and no matter what happens, you just keep picking each other up and good things will happen. They’re just so resilient. We’re playing a good team, we’re playing No.1 in the country, so they’re going to get their runs, they’re going to score, but when we bent we didn’t break,” said Burns.
The host Ryerson Rams were knocked out of medal contention in their first game Thursday, losing 73-51 to Laval. However, the won their next two games, beating Regina (63-45) in the consolation semifinal and then Acadia (91-67) in the consolation final, to finish the tournament in fifth place.