Long a force in men’s hoops, Ravens a favourite for women’s basketball title

An undefeated season and a regional championship might satisfy some teams, but not the Carleton University women’s basketball team.

The Ravens will look to make history this weekend as they set their sights on the program’s first ever national title at the U Sports women’s basketball championship at the University of Regina.

For the second straight year the Ravens head into the tournament as the No. 1 seed with a perfect 23-0 regular season, 3-0 playoff record and a second consecutive Ontario University Athletic championship after defeating the McMaster Marauders 75-66 this past weekend.

Last year the Ravens won a bronze medal after losing to the McGill Martlets, the eventual winners, in the semifinal. While it was a great achievement Carleton was far from satisfied.

“At Carleton, in general, you want to win a national championship, that’s the standard,” said Ravens head coach Taffe Charles. “We’re trying to get to the standard and that’s not to say we didn’t achieve a lot of great things last year, but the standard is national championship.”

The Carleton men’s team has won seven straight national men’s basketball championships and 13 of the last 15. Charles said it’s time for the women’s team to start its own dynasty.

The Ravens open the tournament against the No. 8 Calgary Dinos, who earned their way to the championship tournament with a hard-fought 65-63 win over Trinity Western in the Canada West bronze-medal game.

This is the Dinos first appearance at the final since 2013.

“We’ll see how our defence matches up against their offence,” said Charles. “Offensively they’re going to need to stop us inside. We’ve improved from last year and we’re more experienced. This year we’re on a mission, but the first one is usually always the hardest one.”

The Ravens enter the tournament as the top ranked team, but defending champion McGill can’t be overlooked.

The Martlets are the number four seed in Regina, but the Quebec Student Sport Federation is considered one of the toughest conferences in the country despite it only having five teams.

“The Quebec Conference has been so strong the last few years,” said Regina Cougars head coach Dave Taylor. “You definitely have to consider McGill a favourite as the defending champs as they’ve proven they can win on this stage.”

The Martlets are making a seventh straight appearance in the national final, but head coach Ryan Thorne says this might be one of the most competitive fields he’s seen.

“Of the seven teams we could face we’re fortunate that we’ve already played four of them with the exception of Calgary, Saskatchewan and Acadia,” said Thorne. “We’re pretty familiar with everyone there and it just allows us to be pretty confident going in. I think, like last year, this is a wide open championship and anyone could win this.”

Laval, who lost to McGill in the RSEQ final, will also be in Regina as the number seven seed and should prove to be a tough match-up for the Cougars in the opening game of the tournament.

“We probably drew the toughest opponent for our first game,” said Taylor. “We tried to play Laval earlier in the season and we just couldn’t make it happen so we’ll be facing some unknowns, but there are definitely no easy match-ups.”

Regina, who last won a national title in 2001, have the luxury of playing at home and would love to win the Bronze Baby trophy on their own turf.

“I think there all kinds of advantages playing at home,” Taylor said. “The only pressure is from us and the expectations we’ve placed on ourselves, but I fully expect we’ll play well.”

The McMaster Marauders from Ontario, the Acadia Axemen, representing Atlantic Canada, and Canada West finalists Saskatchewan Huskies round out the eight-team field.

The tournament opens Thursday with the gold medal game set for Sunday.

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