OTTAWA - The Carleton Ravens women's basketball team came within a game of appearing at the U SPORTS Final 8 in Kingston, last month, if it weren't for some hard lessons learned at the hands of the Rams.
The Ravens had an impressive season under head coach Dani Sinclair. In her first season behind the bench and second with the Ravens, Sinclair's team showed a level of grit and determination that led them to a 10-4 regular season record and consistent U SPORTS Top 10 ranking.
Led by a mix of young guards and veteran forwards the Ravens found their rhythm quickly, starting 4-and-0 at home before suffering their first loss in their road debut at York. As they would all season, the Ravens bounced back from their loss with a resounding 100-68 victory the next afternoon to avenge the loss.
Bouncing back would quickly become the story of the year for the Ravens. As the young team learned how to play in big games on the road, they found comfort at home, playing to a 7-1 record at the Ravens' Nest.
Throughout the starts and stops of the pandemic shortened season, the Ravens found their rhythm, at times looking unstoppable. Their second-half run included key wins at the Capital Hoops Classic, coming from well behind in the first half to beat the Gee-Gees by 20, and on the penultimate night of the season, where they entered the ARC and beat the Gaels 64-61 to secure a bye and home court.
The Ravens' playoff run would see them bounce back from a loss in their finale, hitting a pair of last-minute threes to advance past the uOttawa Gee-Gees for a date at the MAC against the Rams. A veteran Rams team was poised to go deep and despite the Ravens finding their range in the middle quarters, the Ravens' season ended a win short of a birth in the Final 8.
The Ravens now look to learn from their losses, refine some skills and move forward. "What we do over the next few months will determine your next season," explains coach Sinclair. "I think we have really good people in the room and we're wanting to be better as a team."
Now back to work training for next season, coach Sinclair and the Ravens admit the sting of defeat took some time to shake. "The expectations of success here are pretty high, and when you finish the season on a loss and don't go to nationals their is some disappointment."
The Ravens remain a young core, who continue to believe the best is yet to come. "This year we had flashes especially early in the season of just how good we can be when we play well defensively." The Ravens' depth starts at guard with OUA All-Star Kali Pocrnic, Defensive Player of the Year Tatyanna Burke, and All-Rookie Teresa Donate, who coach Sinclair feels are just getting started.
"Right there you have three players who are just in their first or second year of eligibility and making a big impact in the league. They're leaders for us, especially at the defensive end of the year."
Now the Ravens will focus on improving their team play, including the defensive end of the court. "From a general standpoint, and where we need to go, we need to understand how to play better together."
Focusing on the games they lost coach Sinclair recognizes the Ravens need time to overcome their youth, something they can't just grow out of overnight.
"What stands out to me [in our record] is our inconsistency and youth. Being reactive has a positive side, we responded, but it speaks to how young we are for not getting ahead of those losses.
"In terms of a signature win in our regular season I look at that Queen's game the most," explains coach Sinclair. "It was one of the only ones where we won a big game on the road. The positive side is we're going to respond and come together and pull up our socks, but moving forward we need to understand that great teams are able to win on the road."
While the Ravens will be losing a key group of veterans with national championship tournament experience, including Madison Reid, Emma Huff and Emma Kiesekamp, the Ravens still have a strong.
"They did a nice job of taking some of those younger players under their wing and showing that they understand those young players were not only our future but were our best players. Those older girls made room for the younger girls to take a leadership role."
The next groups of Ravens now stands ready to welcome the next batch of incoming Ravens. With Pocrnic and Burke supported by young leaders like Teresa Donato, Dorcas Buisa and others the Ravens future looks bright.
"We've got five girls coming in, at this point, at their unique because they all bring something different to the table. We're really happy with the group that we have, and we have a really competitive hard-working group of players coming in that suits our program really well."