By Shawn McLeish
The Loyalist Lancers women’s basketball team began the season with a singular goal: To make it to the Ontario Colleges Athletic Association (OCAA) championships. In order to achieve that goal, they had to beat the Niagara Knights in a playoff game at the Lancer Dome.
Through three quarters, the Lancers prospects looked bleak. They were down 40-34 and had yet to even have a lead in the game. Enter Dianne Bouder. Bouder, a fifth-year forward, was playing her final game at Loyalist. The Lancers teams she had played on the past two seasons won a combined five games. She had never been to the OCAA’s before and wasn’t about to let her final chance slip away.
The Lancers began to chip away at the Niagara lead until they were within two. Bouder, a Cannifton native, coolly received a pass from point guard Martine Gauvin and drained her second consecutive three-pointer to give the Lancers their first lead of the game. Less than five minutes remained and Loyalist never relinquished that lead. Bouder and second-year guard Haley Sisler led the team with 12 points each. Center Samantha Goff added an astounding 16 rebounds in the win.
After the game, an excited Bouder said, “I’m pretty pumped. We all really stepped it up in the fourth quarter.”
During a crucial late timeout, Bouder knew, “there’s no way I’m going to lose right now,” and added the victory was a “total team effort.”
With their ticket punched to the Big Dance, Loyalist began preparations for the trip to Seneca College, host of the 2012 Adidas/VSP Sports OCAA Women’s Basketball Championships. The Lancers faced the Fanshawe Falcons in their first game. Fanshawe won the West Division with a 16-2 regular season record.
Before the games started, though, there was hardware to be handed out. Rookie forward Jenni Thompson of the Lancers was a big winner. She was named as a second-team Eastern all-star, a member of the All-Rookie team, and was crowned as East Rookie of the Year at a morning awards banquet. Thompson was humbled by the recognition.
“I was really surprised. I was hoping for something, but I didn’t want to build my expectations too much in case I didn’t get it,” she said afterwards.
Lancers head coach Chris Eligh narrowly missed out on winning Coach of the Year. The award instead went to Algonquin Thunder coach John MacInnis. The Thunder won the East with a 15-1 record and would take home gold on the weekend for the second straight year.
Seneca Sting head coach Craig Walker, whose team won silver and have now won medals in seven consecutive OCAA championships, knows something about sustained success. He had high praise for Coach Eligh.
“I’m very impressed. Chris has taken the program over and really lifted the program up. He’s brought in some of his own kids and the program is definitely on the up,” said Walker.
The Lady Lancers were excited after the banquet, but had business to attend to on the hardwood. They were tied at four with the first-place Falcons after one quarter. Loyalist played their trademark high-pressure defence and played step-for-step with the first-place Falcons, but had trouble finding the range on their shots and were unable to build a lead despite more first-quarter opportunities.
In the second quarter, the Falcons took off. Shots started falling for them and they outscored the Lancers 29-11 during the frame. That quarter would be the difference as the Lancers eventually fell by a final score of 62-35. Coach Eligh was upset after the tournament opener.
“The girls fought…we had a terrible second quarter and tried to find a way to come back, but couldn’t find a way to finish offensively. I’m pretty bummed,” he admitted.
The Lancers did dominate play in stretches but could not cut into the Falcons’ lead because of poor shooting. Loyalist would finish the game shooting only 27.7% from the field, well below the 34.4% of attempts they made during the season.
Turnovers were also a problem as the Lancers had an uncharacteristic 34 against Fanshawe after averaging only 19 a game during the regular season.
Thompson was named game MVP for Loyalist, scoring a team-high 9 points. Goff contributed 8 rebounds in the loss. Gauvin was distraught after the loss, but knew what her team had to fix.
“We started well on defence, but in the second quarter we killed ourselves. We were not handling the pressure well.” Gauvin added, “our help defence is killing us right now.”
Other teams at the tournament were nonetheless impressed with the Lancers defence in the first game. Coaches from Algonquin and Seneca, perennial contenders both, stated they fully expect Loyalist to become a fixture and future medal threat at the tournament.
Longtime Seneca assistant Mervin Busby said Loyalist, “has a good foundation for their program. Coach (Eligh) has worked very hard with them on skills. They’re on track. I think they’ll be very good for a few years as long as Coach stays. One of the keys to success is stability.”
The Lancers’ second game was an elimination match against the Sheridan Bruins, defending silver medalists. Loyalist had a strong first half and were trailing only 33-23. Thompson and Bouder paced the Lancers with 9 and 7 points, respectively, during the half.
Loyalist came out slowly in the third, though. Rebounding and shooting were the major reasons why. First-year guard Amber Burton explained the Lancers had a letdown defensively.
“We gave them too many second chances. We allowed them to shoot, then get the rebound and an easy two points,” she said.
The Bruins outrebounded the Lancers 74-47 en route to a 64-45 victory. In her final appearance in a Lancer uniform, Bouder was fittingly named the game’s MVP. She finished the game with 12 points and ended her career having played more games than any female athlete in school history.
Loyalist players were visibly upset with the game’s outcome leaving the court. Sisler, one of the team captains, was able to put some perspective on the season.
“Our goal from the beginning of the season was just to make it here,” she said. “We’re really proud as a team and we put up a heckuva two games. For the majority, we played really well and we’re happy how we came together as a team.”
One season removed from a 2-18 overall record, the Lady Lancers now know they can compete with the best of the OCAA. Burton is looking forward to a return trip to the championships next season.
“We’re a good team. We made it her for a reason…we worked our (butts) off.” She continued, “I think we did a pretty good job for our first year of being in the OCAA’s and next year we’re gonna come back full throttle.”
All told, the 2011/12 Lancers had a 20-13 record. That is an 18-win improvement from last season. Coach Eligh knows this past week represented success for himself and the team, but is confident the best is yet to come.
“It’s been a good ride. I’ve always said you have to surround yourself with positive people. I managed to get Mr. Smith (assistant coach Ken), and Mr. McCourt (assistant coach Jamie) behind me and a great group of girls who are willing to work.” A smiling Eligh added, “It’s not done yet. I still have a lot of goals to accomplish and it’s only going to get better from here. We need to embrace this experience for now and move on. I look forward to coming back to this and I look forward to getting further next year.”