TORONTO, ON – When the clock hit zero on Mar. 11, 2018, the Carleton Ravens women’s basketball perfect season was complete.
The Ravens’ 69-48 win over the Saskatchewan Huskies provided the program with its first U SPORTS National title and a bow on top of their 28-0 run, including a second straight Critelli Cup. It was the ultimate high for a program often fighting for the spotlight against Canada’s strongest university men’s basketball program. The days since that night in March 2018 have provided some highs but also some lows as the Ravens have yet to find OUA or U SPORTS gold again. As a new 2021 season begins in earnest, a new face is looking to help lead the Ravens back to the promised land, second-year guard Kali Pocrnic.
Born and raised in Oakville, Ontario, Kali started her playing career in JUEL of Ontario, playing for Blessed Sacrament. In 2015, Kali and Blessed Sacrament went 13-6, good enough for fifth in the standings. In her second year, the team finished 15-7, fourth in the standings, and Pocrnic earned first-team all-star honours and a spot on the All-Defensive team.
After her achievements in JUEL, Kali went over to the OSBA for her final two years, joining a talented Lincoln Prep squad and several future OUA and NCAA stars. The 2017-18 Lincoln prep roster included Lauren Rainford, Brynn Masikewich, Brooklyn Johnson, Natsuki Szczokin, Jess Reid, Niyah Becker and Kaillie Hall. A group of future stars helped Lincoln Prep to repeat their OSBA title in 2018, the same year Carleton took home their U SPORTS gold medal.
The 2018-2019 season didn’t go as well as the previous year, but they were still able to finish fourth with the additions of Kirsten McGrath, Taite Cleland, Makayla Ennis and Jada Grannum, among others. The experience of being in a travelling league had an impact on Pocrnic. “It was a really cool experience because both years I lived away from home.” With the competition and the intensity of training and preparation, Pocrnic’s schedule at the OSBA prepared her for what she would experience at the next level.
Taking the experience and knowledge she gained from JUEL to the OSBA, Kali was ready to take her skills to the OUA, and the Carleton Ravens had a spot for her. Kali joined the team as a rookie in 2019 and was an immediate starter for a team undergoing a transition. Though she was immediately put into a prominent role, Kali found the competition level the most challenging to adjust to, “It was so different from what I was used to, we never stopped. No taking a break, going hard all practice. Everyone was there to win.”
In her first year, the spacing Kali created playing alongside great talent like Dorcas Busia, Madison Reid, and Alyssa Cerino earned the Ravens a 15-7 record, 2nd in the OUA East. They earned themselves a playoff matchup with the York Lions. Kali averaged 6.9 points per game in her first season, shooting 34% from the field, with 3.2 rebounds and three assists per game. Kali played all 22 games for the Ravens in the regular season and both their playoff games, a 67-64 win over York and a 57-48 loss to Ottawa.
At the end of her first year, Pocrnic got an experience that very few each year get. Carleton was selected as the joint host with Ottawa for the 2020 U SPORTS National Championship for men’s and women’s basketball. This meant that even though they were eliminated in the quarter-finals of the OUA playoffs, they had a berth to the national championship and a spot on the most important stage in University basketball in Canada. That meant playing not only in front of family, friends, and the fans she had been playing for all season but against the top competition in Canada.
“It was really exciting. Being on the big stage and going to the banquet was a lot of fun. Honestly, it was overwhelming but something I’ll never forget”.
Kali’s national experience started with a game against the eventual National Champions, the Saskatchewan Huskies. Kali scored 14 points and was one of three Ravens in double digits, but it wasn’t enough to overcome the Huskies, and the Ravens fell 73-59, sending them into the consolation bracket for the rest of the tournament. Carleton went 1-1 in their final two games of the tournament. They defeated Alberta in a thriller 72-70 in the Consolation Semi-Final behind 33 points from Madison Reid, 12 from Kali and 11 from Tatyanna Burke. They played Calgary in their consolation final, falling 66-61, and Kali’s national championship week was over.
Before Carleton could think about building on their national performance, though, the world got sent into a global pandemic. COVID-19 took over North America one week after the National Championship tournament, and for the next 18 months, nobody knew what would happen, if or when university sports would be back,
“It was a rollercoaster of emotions; it was tough hearing you’re going to play, then you’re not going to play,” Pocrinc said
“The way I stayed motivated was coming in every day with the team and practicing for 90 minutes with no contact, doing skill work at our own net. The thing that made me look forward to playing was my team and knowing we’re getting through it together.”
Fast forward to the summer of 2021, and a season was put on the table. Now with the preseason and first two weeks of the season complete, that doubt is all excitement and compete, “Everyone is really really excited; we were nervous because it’s been two years since we’ve played a real basketball game, but we were also really sick of playing against each other, so we’re excited to have games back and see where we’re at as a team.”
The Ravens are at 2-0 with two wins over the Nipissing Lakers, and that comes in the first year of a new coach. Coach Dani Sinclair came to Carleton from the University of Victoria. Pocrnic and her teammates were ready and excited to get a change of system and culture, “We were ready and open to a new coach. Everyone has bought into Dani. She did a great job helping us stay engaged. She’s been great, and we all really love her”.
With a new coach but mostly the same players, Pocrnic has her eyes set on being a better teammate both in leadership and play during the 2021 season. “My expectations are mostly to be a really big leader on the court. I want to get more assists, create more for my teammates, get them open looks and make the game simple. Something my team really focuses on is defence, so I want to get better as a defender and with rotations in five on five”.
Kali has her goals set on a larger scale and playing in a tough division this year with the reshaped conference, she will need to really step into the leadership role and take this Ravens play into her own hands to ensure the play on the court never falters, and the Ravens continue to be in the conversation like they were throughout 2019. With her speed, shooting, decision-making, court vision and passing ability, Kali has all the tools to help elevate the Raven’s play this season, and after their first two games, they look like they have the talent and depth to be one of the top teams.
It’s only Pocrnic’s second year of eligibility, but the young guard has been put into the spotlight ever since she arrived at Carleton. She’ll have to continue to embrace it to be able to put on a show for the basketball fans in the nation’s capital.