McMaster Women’s Basketball returns with depth vs Lakehead

HAMILTON, ON – Over 600 days since they last played an Ontario University Athletics regular season game, the McMaster Marauders women’s basketball team finally returned to action at the Burridge Gym. Since their 2019-20 season, some key seniors have left the program and in their place are two rookie classes in addition to some transfers. McMaster started their season off strong with a pair of wins over the Lakehead Thunderwolves on Nov. 5 and 6.

“I was real happy,” Marauders head coach Theresa Burns said. “Everyone’s so excited to be back on the court. Just kind of enjoying the moment in that regard.” With much to digest from the opening weekend, here are five talking points. 

Olivia Wilson (Photo: Rick Zazulak/McMaster Athletics)

Filling Olivia Wilson’s Presence

One of the seniors that has left the program since is post player Olivia Wilson from Oakville. The pandemic year was her fifth year and she has since finished her time at McMaster. Before their second game versus Lakehead (a 63-47 win), the team honoured Wilson for her senior’s night, giving her a framed jerseys as she posed for pictures with former teammates Sarah Gates and Mia Spadafora as well as Burns and family members. Burns gave a speech talking about Wilson’s importance as a player to the McMaster program, including her role in the OUA and national championship triumphs in 2018-19.

Now, with Wilson as well as forward Christina Buttenham gone, McMaster has turned to some younger players and fellow veterans to fill their spots. Fourth-year forward Clare Sharkey was their main post presence while rookies Jennah Taylor (a transfer from Ursuline College) and Amy Stinson also took on responsibilities down low. Hope College transfer Alissa Smith didn’t play in the first game but did in the second, notching one point and two rebounds in 9 minutes of action. 

The Rookies Gain Experience

Speaking of those rookies, Burns was positive about their impact on a team with plenty of youth. “There was a lot of young ones out there,” she said. “Again, we’re so happy with them. They all played at the top levels at their club in high school days. These girls know how to play. They just need to kind of adjust to the pace of this game and be able to get their shot off that much more quickly et cetera.”  She talked about the importance of getting experience, them going through learning moments as they all contributed. Caprice Townes played in her first regular season game while Deanna Mataseje, Delaney Bourget and Taylor scored their first OUA regular season points. “It was really nice for us to get our entire bench in and get some quality minutes out of everybody tonight [Friday],” Burns said. 

One rookie that stood out in particular was former Westdale Secondary School forward Amy Stinson. The Hamilton native committed to McMaster for the 2020-21 season and has followed up her strong preseason with her performances against Lakehead. Stinson had an impact on both ends of the floor, both inside and outside the paint. In her regular season debut (a 74-65 victory), Stinson hit three of six three-pointers and collected six rebounds, including four offensive ones. She also scored and got to the free throw line by driving inside as well. She notched three points and four rebounds the following night.

Sarah Gates (Photo: McMaster Athletics)

Sarah Gates’ 1,000th point 

While the rookies were experiencing their first OUA baskets, fourth-year guard Sarah Gates reached a milestone as she led the way offensively. The Newmarket native had 32 points (including 5-for-7 from three and 10-for-13 from the field overall) in their first game and in doing so, reached the 1,000 point mark in regular season scoring. From the time she stepped foot at Mac, Gates has been a productive scorer and a key member of each McMaster team, with an ever-increasing role. She played in the 2019 OUA All-Star game, was an OUA All-Star and had a crucial role in McMaster provincial and national championship success of 2019. 

Like she’s done before, Gates showed her ability to score at different levels on the court – from inside and outside. She was efficient driving to the basket and finishing at an efficient clip. Following her 1,000 point game, Gates scored 25 points in 28 minutes the following evening with three rebounds and three assists as well. “She just plays at a whole different level than the rest of the team and probably a lot of people in this province,” Burns noted. “She’s absolutely outstanding, she’s an All-Canadian material player.”

Tori Rigas-DiDomenico (Photo: Rick Zazulak/McMaster Athletics)

Depth Beyond Gates 

A key takeway from the weekend’s games for Burns was the depth of the group. She said the team has a lot of it and talent to boost. “I think when we can get this young group confident – and I don’t think it’s going to take that long,” Burns added. “I think we’ve got a lot of different ways to score and we’ve got Sarah Gates.” 

Before the season, Burns had mentioned to the McMaster website in their season preview that the team needs the younger players to acclimate to university basketball as soon as possible to support the vets so they don’t have to shoulder too much of the load. So far, while Gates, Spadafora and other returning players such as Sharkey, Jenna Button, Tori Rigas-Didomenico have made their contributions, they’ve received help from the new players as they adjust to OUA basketball. 

“We don’t want [Gates] to have to carry that weight every night but I think we can get close to that [production] out of her and still get scoring out of other people,” Burns said. “Once we get everybody confident and playing at this level and shaking a little bit of that rust off from all the COVID year, I’m excited. I think it’s a fun group and they’re going to do some good things for us.”

Burke Bechard (Photo: Gar FitzGerald/Guelph Gryphons)

Looking Ahead to Guelph Rematch

The team will finish off the 2021 part of their calendar with a home-and-home against the Guelph Gryphons before traveling to Sault Ste. Marie for two road games against the Algoma Thunderbirds. The Guelph games in particular will be a good litmus test to see where Burns’ group of youngsters and veterans is at. The last time these two teams faced off, it was a thrilling overtime playoff game at Guelph where McMaster prevailed 93-88. In that game, Gates, Button, Rigas-Didomenico and Spadafora all played a lot of minutes (35 and over).

Meanwhile, this time around, the Gryphons are coming off back-to-back convincing wins over the Windsor Lancers (85-58 and 78-58). They have been led so far by OUA All-Star Burke Bechard, Mackeeley Shantz and first-year guard Julia Colavecchia along with a supporting cast of veterans and youngsters. With both teams coming in undefeated, it wouldn’t be a surprise if the games live up to the excitement and quality of their last meeting from over 600 days ago. 

Featured Image: Jenna Button (Photo: Rick Zazulak/McMaster Athletics)

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