By CLAUDE SCILLEY
Three of the city’s four intercollegiate basketball teams will be seeking their respective league championships this weekend.
Queen’s Golden Gaels are heading to the Ontario University Athletics women’s Final Four tournament in Windsor, where they’ll face the Ryerson Rams in a semifinal game Friday night.
The winner of that game will gain a berth in the national championship tournament, and a berth in Saturday’s conference final, against the winner of the Windsor-Lakehead semfinal.
In Oshawa, the St. Lawrence Vikings begin play Friday night in search of the Ontario Colleges Athletic Association men’s basketball title, in a quarter-final match with the Durham Lords.
Thursday night in Toronto, the St. Lawrence women’s team will be striving to end the Algonquin Thunder’s four-year run as conference champion, when it begins play in an eight-team tournament in Toronto against the Fanshawe Falcons.
St. Lawrence and Fanshawe will reprise their quarter-final game of a year ago, when the Vikings prevailed 59-51.
This year, St. Lawrence finished atop the East division at 15-1, earning automatic entry into the tournament, hosted by Centennial College. The second-highest scoring team in the tournament—and the team that allowed the fewest points per game in the league—the Vikings take a 10-game winning streak into Thursday’s opening game.
The only team to win a game against Algonquin since the Thunder began its four-year championship run, St. Lawrence hopes to improve upon its showing at the last two provincial tournaments, where it lost the bronze-medal game each time.
St. Lawrence is led by Lacey Knox, who was eighth in Ontario in scoring with 14.3 points per game and was second in the league in shooting percentage (.515). In terms of field-goal success, the Vikings had four of the top 13 players in the province, as Knox was followed by Hanna Koposhynska (fourth, .490), Shanicka Edwards (12th, .431) and Jackie Rodgerson (13th, .430).
Fanshawe, 12-6 and the fourth-place team in the West division, won its way into the tournament with a 53-41 home-court win over Seneca in a qualifying game last weekend. It’s the fourth consecutive year the Falcons have appeared in the event, and this year they did it with a balanced attack: not one player finished the regular year with better than 9.0 points per game.
The Vikings enter the tournament as the No. 3-ranked team in Canada. The other nationally ranked teams in the three-day event are No. 9 Algonquin and No. 11 Humber.
The OCAA champion will advance to the Canadian Collegiate Athletic Association tournament, March 18-21 in Nanaimo, B.C.
The Queen’s women head into their tournament as the only team that is not nationally ranked, in a field that includes No. 1 Windsor, No. 7 Ryerson and No. 9 Lakehead. The Gaels did not beat any of the other teams, losing by six points at Lakehead to open their season, losing by eight points at Windsor in late January, and losing both games to Ryerson, by eight points at home, and by 10 points in Toronto.
The Gaels, 11-8 in the regular year—but 0-6 against teams that finished ahead of them—began the Ontario playoffs as the seventh-seeded of 12 teams, but won their way to Windsor by defeating Laurentian 80-52 in a qualifying game at home, and then upsetting No. 6-ranked Laurier 85-78 in double overtime in a quarter-final game Saturday at Waterloo.
Ryerson, 16-3 and the top rebounding team in the league in the regular year, advanced with a 73-47 quarter-final win over Ottawa, led by a 20-point, 14-rebound performance by Keneca Pingue-Giles. The Rams, who allowed the second-fewest points per game in Ontario, lost to Windsor in the regular season, but defeated Lakehead by eight points a month ago.
The Gaels have been led by Jenny Wright and Liz Boag, two final-year players from Kingston, via Regiopolis Notre Dame and La Salle, respectively. Wright was fifth in the East division in scoring with 13.8 points per game, while Boag was sixth with 13.1 points per game. With her .356 success rate from three-point range, Abby Dixon of Queen’s was eighth in Ontario, and she’s the third-best among players who have survived to this tournament.
The Gaels reached the conference championship last year, but lost as Windsor won its second provincial title in a row, its fifth in the last six years.
The OUA champion and runner-up will each receive a berth in the CIS championship tournament, March 12-15 in Quebec City.
The last time the St. Lawrence Vikings and Durham Lords met in a men’s basketball game, a bench-clearing brawl led to three Vikings being suspended, and that led St. Lawrence, playing with just five men, to lose its next two games. That cost the Vikings a shot at an automatic bid to the tournament but St. Lawrence defeated Redeemer in Ancaster last Saturday 90-83 to get there anyway.
The Vikings go into the championship with two of the league’s top 10 scorers—Andrew Dawkins, who was seventh, averaging 20.2 points per game, and Jaz Bains, who was ninth, scoring 19.9 points in an average game. Don Gibson finished the season fourth in the league in field-goal percentage (.574).
Ajahmo Clarke, the former Viking who started the aforementioned scrap, led Durham with 22.3 points per game, fourth best in the league. Durham’s Dylan Pelissero had the top shooting eye in Ontario, sinking 62.7 per cent of his shots from the field.
It was a season of streaks for the Vikings, who opened with just two wins in their first seven games, but then embarked on a 10-game winning streak that propelled them into the national ranking. St. Lawrence then limped home, losing its last three in a row.
St. Lawrence lost 80-59 to Durham in the first month of the season, but then pinned an 88-70 defeat on the East division leaders a month ago, in the brawl game.
Semifinal games will be played Saturday, with the championship match scheduled for 7:30 p.m. Sunday.