Hamilton, ON– As Sarah Gates was racking up points, she wasn’t aware of how many she had.
The fifth-year McMaster Marauders guard ended up scoring 47 points in their season opener victory against York. It was a career-high for her and a McMaster women’s basketball record.
“Honestly, it was just one of those games where you’re just playing basketball,” Gates said. “I had no sense of what was going on and how many points I had.”
Gates got going early, scoring 12 points in the first quarter. Then eight more in the second quarter. She added eight more in the third and 18 in the fourth. “That’s just a whole different level of scoring,” Marauders head coach Theresa Burns noted.
The Newmarket native scored from all-areas of the court: driving inside, outside (hitting seven-of-11 threes) and the free throw line. She shot 66.7 per cent from the field and 63.6 per cent from three. She did so in 27 minutes.
Gates’ scoring was much needed against a physical York team that kept the game relatively close throughout. Burns pointed out how the team executed down the stretch to clinch the 89-81 win.
“When you have a scorer that can hit the shot when you need her to hit it, it’s very nice to have,” Burns added.
While Friday night was a career-high for Gates, it was another game and another chapter in an already storied career for her.
Gates made an instant impact coming into McMaster in 2017-18. She averaged 10 points and 4.8 rebounds, earning a spot on the OUA All-Rookie team. She learned from former teammates such as Hilary Hanaka and Linnaea Harper, who she won an OUA and national title with in 2019. She also credits McMaster legend Danielle Boiago, who is an assistant coach at McMaster.
Gates has been a U SPORTS All-Canadian and an OUA All-Star. She’s played in the OUA women’s basketball all-star game in 2018 and 2019. She is averaging 29.7 points in her first three regular season games this year – a career-best.
She’s been a productive scorer but has improved even this past offseason. Burns points out how she’s more willing to give the ball up to get it back later in a better position. She added that Gates isn’t settling for the three-point shot as much.
“She’s very very focused on getting out in transition and wanting to catch in transition,” Burns noted. “It’s a huge huge weapon for us and she’s really bought into that.”
Gates said she’s worked on getting stronger and shiftier to make more moves to the basket. She also focused on playing smart. It’s something she’s learned from her mentors and former teammates.
“I aspire to be like that,” she added. “The main thing was pushing myself to play hard but also smart.”
Like Boaigo, Harper and Hanaka did before her, Gates is entering her final year. She called it an easy decision to come back. “I just wanted one last year,” she noted. “Honestly, I wasn’t ready to stop wearing the McMaster jersey.”
Part of that McMaster experience are the relationships Gates has with her teammates. She said she enjoys playing with them.
Teammates Mia Spadafora and Clare Sharkey came back for their final season as well. They came into McMaster together in 2017. Now they’ll finish together. Gates said that individual factors – school, career paths – are part of their decision to come back. So was the team dynamic.
“It becomes a really really easy decision to make when you’re spending time with your best friends every day,” she noted.
Against York, the Marauders got their first win of the regular season. It’s one step towards the bigger goal – winning the national title again. “I want to win it all and finish big,” Gates said.
They’ve faced their share of nationals calibre teams in the early stages of the season. McMaster lost to Ottawa and Carleton last weekend and will face Queen’s, TMU and Brock in their next three games – three teams in the national semi-finals last year.
“It’s the best learning we can have and that’s what we want,” Burns said. “We want to challenge ourselves against those teams…so if we get a lot of good learning and we know that we’re making adjustments as we go along by learning from those teams, then it’s all good.”
After their win over York, the team brought back a tradition called “The Nest.” It’s where players, coaches, family members and others gather, interact and enjoy a post-game meal. The tradition has been on pause the past two years. Some of the players experienced it for the first time on Friday. Gates did so for the first time since 2020.
“It’s the best. It’s so nice seeing everyone and celebrating,” Gates noted. “It’s just a McMaster family. So it’s so nice to be able to just kind of share those moments together.”
Featured Image: Marisa Settimi/McMaster Athletics