“They’re finding their voice”: McMaster’s veterans enter their leadership era

Hamilton, ON- They came into McMaster in 2020, right before a lost season. After a year of waiting, they finally made their university debuts and grew together. Now, McMaster’s fourth-years played their third home opener as veterans. Now, they were the go-to players and leaders. 

The McMaster Marauders women’s basketball team won that home opener versus the Toronto Varsity Blues 67-46 on Nov. 11. The team did so after rebounding from a slow start. They also did so with contributions from those veterans. 

The four of them – Deanna Mataseje, Delaney Bourget, Amy Stinson and Cassie Joli-Coeur – are the second-most experienced players on the team. Only fifth-year guard Jenna Button has been around longer. 

With that seniority comes responsibility – both on the court and off. On the hardwood that night, they played their role. Button had a game-high 15 points while Joli-Coeur (11 points, four rebounds), Stinson (11 points, four rebounds), Bourget (five points, four rebounds) and Mataseje (three points, five assists, six steals) also made their mark. 

Stinson was a part of the OUA West All-Rookie team in 2021-22 (Photo: Kevin Lassel/McMaster Athletics)

Against Toronto and in previous games, they were the five starters. McMaster head coach Theresa Burns said they’re settling into that role as leaders. “It’s not as natural of a progression as sometimes people think,” she added. 

Over the past four years, the current senior group has learned from plenty of great players. When they came in, McMaster was not far removed from winning an OUA and national title. Some of the players from that team were still there as recently as last season. 

Stinson said she took away different things from each of them. She saw how U SPORTS Player of the Year Sarah Gates led by example with her scoring prowess. She saw how point guard Arianne Soriano was their “Energizer Bunny”, how Pietra Kamstra was the “team mom” and how Clare Sharkey was so cool and composed. 

She felt guard and current assistant coach Mia Spadafora’s assurances. She would grab Stinson’s hand at times and tell her: “It’s okay. This is what we’re going to do next.” Stinson looked at her and it would all work itself out. 

Bourget also felt Spadafora’s calming presence. Spadafora would be the one to talk them through anything, settle everyone down and knows what’s going on all the time. 

Bourget knows her responsibility with her former teammate now on the sidelines. “I want to be that calming energy for people,” she said. “Make sure we’re on the same page and lead as best as I can.” 

The leadership experience is a new one, according to Bourget. It’s also something they look forward to and are excited for. They’ve gone from secondary leaders to primary ones, according to Burns. 

Just like their former teammates, they each have their own leadership style. “What’s important to us is we’re not forcing it,” Bourget noted. 

Bourget is averaging a career-best 18.2 minutes per game this year (Photo: Kevin Lassel/McMaster Athletics)

They take turns leading. Sometimes, it can be on the court or on the bench. Sometimes, it can in the locker room at halftime. Sometimes, it’s one of them taking charge. Sometimes, it’s another one of them…and another…and another…

They talked with each other about having that balance. “Not forcing yourself to lead when you have something out inside of you,” Bourget said. “We kind of rely on each other to build that balance in terms of leadership.”

Burns can hear them – during water breaks in practice and in huddles and at halftime – communicating and sharing information.  “They’re finding their voice,” she said. It’s part of their growth process. 

“As that group finds their voice more and more, it’s just going to be so helpful for us,” Burns added. 

Each of them brings something different to the table. For Stinson, it’s about going 100 per cent and showing her teammates that they can as well. She’ll lift her teammates when their heads are down and hype them up when they’re doing well. “Being a good teammate,” she describes it. That’s her focus. 

Stinson called it fun to go through the process of becoming leaders with those fourth-year teammates. With her best friends as well. So, when she thinks of each of them…

“This is so hard because I can talk about them for so long,” Stinson said. 

Mataseje is fourth in U SPORTS with 3.3 steals per game in all games (Photo: Kevin Lassel/McMaster Athletics)

She’s known Mataseje the longest, having played with her since they were in grade three. She knows Mataseje’s tenacity on defence – that can change a game. “She’s the leader by example,” Stinson said. “She’s always composed, which is something I really admire about her.” 

Stinson sees the same composure and calmness in Bourget as she does in Spadafora. “A basketball IQ like no other,” she called it. “She has a coach’s brain.” 

Bourget will hear what her coaches are saying and echoes it to her teammates. She’ll pick up the smallest of details, just like her coaches do, and tell them. When Bourget does so, Stinson finds herself listening. 

Stinson also finds herself noticing Joli-Coeur’s energy. “Our hype girl,” she calls her. Joli-Coeur will score, rebound and defend and do so with energy. 

Joli-Coeur said she’s trying harder than ever to support her teammates on and off the court. On a team with seven first-years, her experience proves valuable. “Just being there for them to talk to,” she said. She’s there to support them.

Joli-Coeur is the team’s leading scorer with 14.8 points on average (Photo: Kevin Lassel/McMaster Athletics)

She knows the challenges of being in first year. She knows the challenges of balancing academics and athletics in university. Make school your priority, she tells them.

She tells them about the importance of EAT. Effort, attitude and toughness is what it stands for – an acronym she lives by. “It does get to be a lot,” Joli-Coeur said of first year. “If you don’t talk to people and bring that energy, it’s hard to perform well.” 

As much as her teammates sense her energy, she senses theirs as well. 

The most senior player of all also brings her leadership. Button celebrated her birthday in style with the win over Toronto. The Dundas native came into the program in 2019-20, right off the national title win. Her role has expanded with each passing season. 

This year, she leads the team in three-point percentage and field goal percentage. She’s also made her impact with her intangibles. 

Button is the only fifth-year on the team (Photo: Kevin Lassel/McMaster Athletics)

Burns thinks of her positivity, her coachability and her attention to detail. She thinks of how she leads by example. She thinks of how Button lifts others up as well. You got this. Forget that. Move onto the next thing, she would tell them. 

“She’s just found a way to give so much to everybody else,” Burns added. “I think that’s taken the pressure off herself and she’s not so focused on her own.” 

The head coach knows how hard Button can be on herself for the tiniest of mistakes. Or not even mistakes. Oh, I don’t think I did that as well as I wanted to, she would think. In her first year, Button would have sunk into herself over that. “Now that’s all gone,” Burns noted. “Now it’s all about giving.” 

McMaster’s veterans continue to give, lead and learn. It takes some figuring out, according to Burns. They’re figuring out what their leadership styles are and how to lead. She sees them learning every day. 

They’re learning and coming together as a group. They’ve won three of their first four regular season games after a long preseason. It’s taken some getting used with all the new roles and new players but the results are starting to come to fruition. 

“It’s been so amazing to see the lights go off and things clicking and being able to be a part of that as well,” Joli-Coeur said. 

The veteran players are doing their part with their points, assists, steals and rebounds. With their voices and leadership as well. 

Featured Image: Kevin Lassel/McMaster Athletics

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