Hamilton, ON- When Olivia Koffi was told the night before her McMaster game she was going to play, she was nervous. She hadn’t played a competitive game in a long time.
The following evening, Koffi made her McMaster Marauders debut as the McMaster women’s basketball team defeated the Humber Hawks 73-65 on Sept. 27 to kick off their exhibition season.
Koffi came off the bench and scored her first basket, drilling a three-pointer after grabbing an offensive rebound. She didn’t think it would go in – thinking it would be an air ball. Instead, the ball swished through.
“It just boosted my confidence throughout the whole game,” Koffi noted. She called the game great step to build off for future ones, she added.
Koffi wasn’t the only one making her McMaster debut. The team features seven first-year players. Many of them suited up against Humber and again against Fanshawe College on Sept. 30 in a 103-53 victory.
Against Humber, the team pushed the ball up the court and made some plays for open shots and baskets. They also made some mistakes and turned the ball over at times. It looked like a first game, according to Marauders head coach Theresa Burns.
“As we said to the players, it was a baseline to build from so that was the effort tonight,” Burns added.
Those first-year players saw notable playing time. They went through their share of errors and learning moments but they all scored and played a role in the win.
With those new players comes lots of teaching and learning. It comes with plenty of coaching them through sets and drills. It comes with lots of patience and growth, according to their head coach.
Focusing on attention to details for instance – starting in practice. “What you do right now in this shift in practice is going to make or break you in a shift in the game,” Burns said. “It’s up to us to push them in practice and ask for those details.”
Another thing is the pace which they play at. It’s a breakneck one at times, with players constantly running and pushing the ball up the court, looking for fast break opportunities and open looks.
First-year forward Sophia Urosevic said it’s different and something she’s getting used to. She remembers being tired after those first up-and-down the court trips.
Urosevic committed to McMaster because of how great of a program it is and how much she looks up to Burns. Before her first game, she came out and saw the bleachers and the music blaring.
The realization hit her: she was playing at McMaster. Surreal, she called it.
Urosevic was nervous at the start of the game. “This is what I worked for,” she then thought to herself. “This is what I wanted.” Her nerves started to die down and she became excited to play.
Having her parents in the stands helped as well. Upon seeing them up there, she thought: “I’m okay, it’s going to be a good game.” Then her nerves went away completely.
Koffi dealt with those same nerves. She’s been through quite a journey to reach the point of even having those nerves before the game.
Last year, as a first-year student, she tried out for the team and became a practice player. She did that and then stopped due to her workload with school.
This year, she texted Burns that she was still interested in playing. So, Burns invited her to try out again. Coming into it, Koffi was unsure if she was going to make the team given how many recruits they had.
Nevertheless, she “really worked my butt off,” according to her. Once Burns told her she made the team, she felt proud. “Incredible,” Koffi called it.
Playing university basketball was a goal of hers. She worked hard since last year to achieve it. Now that she has, Koffi wants to prove that she belongs.
When she hit that first three-pointer, she heard from friends cheering her on. That’s when it sank in for her that was playing at McMaster.
She said it was awesome she was able to make an impact in her first game. She was also super proud of her rookie teammates – of how they all scored.
There’s Koffi from Cambridge, Urosevic from Kitchener, Ashley Guerriero from Newmarket, Emily Frankovic from Thornhill and Maya Weekes from Vaughan. There’s also Teja McCormick from Toronto and Maryam Abdelrahman from Oakville, who didn’t play against Humber.
The rookies come from different places and different high schools and clubs. They come from different paths – some recruited, some walked on. The common denominator: they’re all at McMaster. They all help each other out, according to Koffi.
Urosevic mentioned how they all bond over that shared experience of coming into university basketball together. “We really look to the vets and they really help us out,” she added. “I think the dynamic of them helping us, really brings us close together.
With several preseason games and the whole regular season ahead of them – including a trip to Halifax – there will be more time for the first-year players to spend time together, bond and grow. More learning and mistakes but also more baskets and achievements as well.
Urosevic said she’s really wants to focus on growing defensively. “Defence really wins games and it’s definitely something really important to us,” she said.
Koffi said she wants to come in confident. Being confident in her drives as she got scared going into the paint at times. “Just coming in confident and doing what I know what to do, which is play basketball,” she noted.
The first couple of preseason games are in the books for this year’s McMaster team. For the rookie group, it could be the start of a long journey ahead.
“Great way to start the season together,” Koffi said. “We’re probably going to be together for another three, four years so just building that chemistry off the first game is awesome.”
Featured Image: Michael Sun