Canada's head coach Lisa Thomaidis looks on as they play China in the preliminary round of women's basketball action at the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, on Saturday, Aug. 6, 2016. Thomaidis will not return as head coach of Canada's national women's basketball team, ending a run of nearly a decade at the helm of the program. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick

Thomaidis: sense of sadness leaving on low note of pandemic, Olympics

Thomaidis: sense of sadness leaving on low note of pandemic, Olympics

There’s a sense of sadness in leaving the job on a low note, but Lisa Thomaidis is also looking forward to coming up for air after nearly a decade of juggling two head coaching jobs.

Canada Basketball didn’t renew Thomaidis’s contract as the national women’s head coach, in what was announced earlier this week as a mutual agreement. The news came on the heels of the Canadian women’s first-round elimination at the Tokyo Olympics.

“Tokyo definitely cast a cloud over what we’ve been able to accomplish over the last nine years,” Thomaidis said a day after the announcement. “When you think of 2019 and 2020, we went undefeated in the Olympic qualifiers.”

Canada beat host and world No. 6-ranked Belgium, and Japan — who went on to capture silver at the Tokyo Olympics — in qualifying.

“It’s the expectations that maybe we generated, that had something to do with it,” Thomaidis said.

COVID-19 hit a month later, sending Canadian players scattering to various places around the world. They didn’t reconvene until a couple of months before the Olympics, and went 18 months before playing again at full strength in their loss to Serbia in their Tokyo opener.

“The accomplishments were going so well. And then to kind of end on this note, for sure it feels a little anticlimactic, and kind of took away a bit of the shine of what we were able to do over the last little bit, but it’s reality, and that’s what we’re faced with,” Thomaidis said.

The 49-year-old from Dundas, Ont., said her team was playing its best basketball five months out from the 2020 Olympics, and had the Games actually been held that summer, she believes they would have been in the medal conversation.

“We were at full strength, we were playing so well, everyone was healthy. And then COVID, and life happened and people got injured, we weren’t able to train. But yet the (medal) expectations still remained the same. And so, really unfortunate for our team, I think the timing was so yucky for lack of a better term.”

Thomaidis was named head coach in 2013 and led the team to a FIBA world ranking of fourth, the highest in program history. She leaves with an 83-44 record at the helm.

She coached Canada to quarterfinal showings at the 2016 Rio Olympics and gold medals at the 2015 Pan Am Games in Toronto, the 2015 FIBA Americas championship and the 2017 FIBA AmeriCup.

The women’s game in Canada has grown by leaps and bounds over the past decade.

“I remember 2012 was the first time we were on national TV, at the Olympics,” said Thomaidis, who was an assistant to Allison McNeill at those Games in London. “Before that, no one knew our national team and now to train in Edmonton (the Canadian women’s home base), to have played at home, to have had a Pan Am Games in Toronto, people actually know our team now. They know the names of our players.

“To have a flag-bearer at the Olympics (Miranda Ayim) — just night and day where the program is now, in just the raising the profile of the players and the team.

“So, I’m just really proud of that, and happy that has happened.”

Thomaidis received an outpouring of support on social media.

Minnesota Lynx guard Bridget Carleton tweeted: “Thank you @LisaThomaidis for all you have done for me and the growth of our SWNT over the last two decades (!!). Through the highs and the lows, I will cherish our many amazing memories together with the national team. Appreciate you so much!!”

Lynx teammate and three-time Olympian Natalie Achonwa wrote: “Chapters close, but the memories last for a lifetime. Thank you Lisa Thomaidis for all you have been & done for me and our SWNT program.

“From 16 year old Nat to 3 Olympics later … the tears, the laughs, the celly’s … it’s been a hell of a ride. love you!”

Thomaidis was an assistant on McNeill’s staff for 12 years before she became head coach.