Hamilton, ON- The new season of McMaster Marauders women’s basketball started on Friday night at the Burridge Gymnasium. The Marauders hosted the Laval Rouge et Or – a rematch of the 2019 U Sports finals, which McMaster won its first national title. The banner with the players’ names hangs on the wall.
Since that title, there are still four players from that championship team: Mia Spadafora, Sarah Gates, Arianne Soriano and Clare Sharkey. The coaching staff is the almost the same as well.
The team is almost the same as last year, with almost everyone back. It shows. Against Laval, you saw the continuity and chemistry. You saw the passing.
“You can see a level of maturity in their games,” Marauders head coach Theresa Burns noted. She pointed to players such as Amy Stinson, Cassandra Joli-Coeur, Deanna Mataseje and Delaney Bourget as examples.
“With an actual summer of training which they’ve never had at this level – on the court and in the weight room – you could tell that that was going to add something to their game and you can see that maturity level,” Burns added.
Like all OUA teams, the Marauders didn’t play in the 2020-21 season and then last season was interrupted with an almost two-month pause in between. When they restarted, their seniors night game was cancelled due to COVID protocol.
The lack of continuity and game experience was perhaps particularly significant for a team that was breaking in seven first-year players and transfers Alissa Smith and Jennah Taylor.
The Marauders finished with a 9-6 record and almost knocked off the OUA finalist Brock Badgers in the quarterfinals. Over five months later, most of the team is now back – except for Smith and Caprice Townes – and on the court against Laval, they were winning.
McMaster got out to an early lead with some stellar defence and some efficient offence. Players found teammates cutting to the rim. The ball was moved around for an open shot. The Marauders finished with 16 assists.
“Everybody came in and had opportunities to be involved in the offence,” Burns said. “If we’re running offence the way we want to then there should be a lot of sharing of the ball and you should see a lot of assists on that stat sheet.”
Point guard Jenna Button said the team’s cohesion is a big difference from last season. “We’ve really gotten to know what everyone’s strengths are and how to play well together,” Button noted. “That was the biggest thing. We’re so much [more] comfortable playing as a team.”
Button has grown and become more comfortable on the floor. She’s in her fourth year at McMaster but her third season of play. She talks about being more of a leader.
The Dundas native came into the team after their historic national championship. She learned from veteran teammates who played on that team.
“One thing I appreciated as a first-year was having them come to me and say, here’s what went wrong, here’s how you can improve,” she said. “Also being that supportive teammate that’s always there.”
Button had five points, two rebounds, two assists and one steal against Laval as her team took a 39-28 lead at halftime. While the game showcased McMaster’s strengths, it also showed their areas for growth.
Laval pushed the pace in transition to cut into the Marauders lead. The defending RSEQ champs made a run. In the fourth, Audrey Beland (17 points, eight rebounds) hit back-to-back jumpers and Frederique Beaudry-Blais (19 points, four rebounds, four assists) nailed a three. Then Catherine Champagne hit a three to cut the lead to one.
“We were forcing some things that we didn’t need to,” Burns said. “We just needed to control the ball and not give Laval the chance to climb back and then we settled down. And then cooler heads prevailed.”
Burns said they moved the ball around better and made smarter decisions afterwards. U Sports All-Canadian and leading scorer Sarah Gates scored the seven of the next eight points by getting to the foul line as the home team made key plays to win the game. She led all players with 25 points.
Button said Burns pointed out the team was settling for shots in a timeout. “We were settling for shots and we were making them at times,” she said. “We knew to get good ball movement and get the ball in the paint – which is what happened.”
For all that was same as last year, first-year Jocelyn Newby made her McMaster debut. She played 10 minutes and notched her first McMaster assist. The following afternoon during the Marauders’ road game against Fanshawe College, Newby scored her first point on a free throw.
“She’s a really smart player. She’s a very good shooter,” Burns said. “She just needs to get her feet wet at this level and find some confidence.”
One player who won’t be making her debut with the Marauders is former University of Toronto-Scarborough guard Jade Addai. The former OCAA leading scorer is also an MBA student. After going through summer workouts and the first few weeks of classes, Addai decided not to play due to the heavy academic workload, according to Burns.
The Marauders have a home game against Memorial on Oct. 20 before taking part in the Darcel Wright Memorial Classic to finish the preseason. They’ve participated before but this year’s event will have eight teams in a nationals-style format. The Marauders are matched up against UBC in the quarter-finals.
Burns said the team is looking to find roles for players and have them “firing on all cylinders.” Button said the main goal is being comfortable on the court.
“At practice, it’s easy to go through the motions, run through the plays,” she noted. “Having those different defences and playing those different teams will be really good for us to get those different reads on our offence.”
The Marauders will go into those games and the season will as much roster continuity as any team in U Sports. Having Spadafora, Sharkey and Gates back for their sixth year is part of that.
Button called them big leaders and personalities. “As a team last year, we were always pushing them. We’re like ‘please, we want you to come back’,” she recalled.
Now they have for one final season. “We’re really glad that they came back and I think it was kind of like that ‘Oh they played together for so long. They lost a year with COVID so why not’,” Button said. “Why not come back and try and get another national championship out of it.”
Featured Image: Rick Zazulak/McMaster Athletics