What’s next for battled-tested Badgers after Critelli Cup loss

St. Catharines, ON- The game and the OUA title was in their hands. Despite blowing a 22-point fourth-quarter lead and being unable to deal with the Rams’ full-court press, the Brock Badgers women’s basketball team still had a chance to win the Critelli Cup.

Fifth-year guard Mackenzie Robinson went up for the layup but it could not fall as the buzzer sounded to end regulation. The Badgers would fall 72-70 in overtime to the Rams. Their players were quiet on one end of the court while the Rams were ecstatic in celebration on the other end. 

“Shocking,” Robinson called it afterwards. “I think the first half we came out really really strong and we felt confident and then in the second half, we came out extremely stagnant.” 

The Badgers were clicking in the first half. They had won convincingly over the second seeded Western Mustangs in the OUA West finals a few nights earlier and seemed to carry that performance into the game against the Rams. 

Robinson and guards Ivana Twumasi and Victoria Lawrence created driving lanes, scoring at the basket and opening up the Rams’ defence. The Badgers pushed the pace, scoring on the fast break and hitting from three. No one exemplified that better than guard Madalyn Weinert, fresh off being named to the OUA West all-rookie team. 

The hometown guard from St. Catharines played solid rim defence (team-high five blocks) while scoring and making plays from all areas of the court. She ended up with a game-high 25 points and 17 rebounds. 

Robinson noted how Weinert has met the goals she sets for herself. “She’s positive but she also gets on people too,” Robinson continued. “That’s good for a first year because once some of us start moving out, someone’s going to have to step into that leadership position and that could be her considering she’s doing a great job this year.”

Twumasi has made an immediate impact since joining the Badgers (Photo: Brock Athletics)

Robinson also pointed out Twumasi’s feistiness and will to win. “Ivana has a drive,” she added. “She always has and always will – and that drive just keeps building and building and building even after today.” Twumasi has been a key cog for the Badgers since coming over from Humber College and Gannon, one of many important additions to the team. 

Meanwhile, the tone of the game shifted in the fourth quarter when the Rams started press. Brock called timeouts to talk it over but were unable to break the press, which disrupted their offence and led to the visitors scoring uncontested layups. 

They talked about setting up against the press and who should be taking the ball, according to Robinson. “We’ve been practising it all year round so it shouldn’t be something new but we just weren’t executing where we’re supposed to be,” she said. 

The veteran guard also noticed a decline in ball movement offensively. “At the end of the game, we just started getting selfish,” she said. “We’re holding a ball a little bit too much at the top. We weren’t moving around.” She also pointed out the lack of execution defensively down the stretch as well. 

As the game shifted and ended – as a late pass for a tying-score was intercepted and Weinert’s last-gasp buzzer beater fell short –  so did their hopes of winning a second straight Critelli Cup. 

Looking back at the past number of seasons, the team’s journey has been remarkable. 

The Badgers have experienced plenty of success overall this season, but it hasn’t come easy. The team had to make up for the losses of Brock legends Melissa Tatti (who graduated and went pro) and Jessica Morris (transferred to Western) among others. They had to follow up on the dream season of 2019-20 – a culmination of years of building up to that point.

One game at a time, Brock made its run in 2019-20, all the way to a Critelli Cup win over the Rams and a nationals silver medal. Now, led by reigning OUA Coach of the Year Mike Rao, they had to retool. 

They did. Getting OUA All-Star forward Sam Keltos back was important. Robinson brought her leadership and presence onto the court after redshirting and recovering from an injury in 2019-20. Weinert came in with Olivia Fiorucci and others as part of two rookie classes. Twumasi and Lawrence came in as CCAA transfers. 

Suddenly, once the season got underway, the team was clicking, staying undefeated with wins over division rivals Guelph, McMaster and others. The Badgers were ranked number one in the U SPORTS rankings for the first time ever. Then the season paused due to COVID.

Keltos was one of the best players in Canada during her tenure with the Badgers (Photo: Stephen Leithwood/Brock Athletics)

Uncertainty surrounded the OUA in terms of when the games would resume. When it did and the season was pushed back a month, Keltos had signed a professional contact in Australia. Under the initial U SPORTS schedule, she could finish nationals and then head down under. Now, with the month-long delay, it meant she would leave at the end of the regular season. 

While the Badgers were rolling, COVID struck again as the team missed their last four games. The team missed out on having a senior’s night game and Keltos was gone. They missed crucial games and practices that are so helpful for chemistry, cohesion and development. 

“Honestly, even with the outcome today, I’m so happy that we made it here with everything that happened,” Robinson noted. “We had to face so much adversity in the last few months in the last few months. I’m just proud of my team and the way we responded and the fact we got to OUA finals and we still have nationals. The job’s not done.” 

Their even-keel mentality came with their success. “Our emotions kind of stayed in the middle,” Robinson said. “We were never overly excited with a win. We were never underly excited with a win. We were calm after each one.” 

Given Keltos’ impact on different areas of the court, the Badgers needed players to step up, according to Robinson. “A lot of girls stepped up today,” she added. “I mean we just have to fill that void and find people who are willing to put in the work and do the things Sam once did but in a different aspect so I think there were girls that did that today.”

Weinert, Robinson, Twumasi and Lawrence were among those that stepped up. Meanwhile, third-year guard Jenneke Pilling didn’t score but played all 45 minutes and made her presence known on both ends of the court, finishing with seven rebounds and a team-high seven assists.

Despite the missed games at the end of the regular season and Keltos’ departure, the team persevered to reach an OUA finals and come as close as any team to beating the Rams, having them on the ropes in the fourth quarter. Now, they will go in as the fourth seed at nationals with a chance to go one step further than last time around. 

The nationals in Kingston marks the end of the road for Robinson. The Collingwood native has been around the OUA a long time – since 2015 to be exact.

In her four seasons at Laurentian, her teams never won more than seven games. Her role continued to grow year-by-year though. Robinson joined Brock and enrolled in their teacher’s college program. She endured through a foot injury, stress fractures and surgery to repair ligament damage in her right ankle. 

When Brock made their historic run in 2020, she could only watch from the sidelines as a redshirt. Now, she’s a key part of a national title contender. Now, finally healthy, she’s an OUA All-Star for the first time in her career. Now, she’ll get to play on the biggest stage before ending her career. 

Robinson is having arguably the best season of her university career with Brock (Photo: Brock Athletics)

She said she’s looking forward to playing the best teams from across Canada, having seen her teammates so do two years ago. The Badgers play the Acadia Axewomen in the first round. There are also lessons that the team can learn from their defeat to the Rams. 

“Anything can happen in a basketball game,” she said. “It always will turn around and when it’s unexpected too. So it’s never done until the clock runs out. So moving forward, we have to make sure we stay in the moment and keep working hard. We can’t give up and we have to keep doing what we do best.” 

She also knows the clock is ticking on her time playing university basketball. Sitting in the bleachers of the Bob Davis Gymnasium after the OUA finals loss, Robinson called it “crazy” she’s at this moment of her career and said , despite the defeat, she couldn’t have asked for a better season. “Definitely sad because today was my last day in this gym, playing on this court,” she said. “I guess that’s definitely an emotional aspect but we still have nationals and I’m pumped to go to nationals” 

Featured Photo: Jayson Childs/Brock Athletics

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