C/O Travis Nguyen

An in-depth look at the Marauders basketball teams after years of success

Anyone who has been following Ontario University Athletics basketball recently would be quick to note the Marauders as one of the powerhouse teams in the league. Not only have the men’s and women’s teams started their 2021-2022 seasons strong, with both holding a five and one record, but recent history also sits in their favour.  

Over the past decade, the men’s team holds a strong record of 122-73 in regular season play. The women’s team holds an even stronger 144-55 record with a championship victory from the 2018-2019 season to top it off, their first since the dominant 2000s run, which saw four championships in a 10-year stretch. 

Having attained sustainable success, a rare and difficult to achieve outcome in sports, a deeper analysis into McMaster’s basketball program was completed to understand how the school can continue pumping out strong results year after year.  

In reviewing the men’s team, it is an offense-heavy squad which has begun to improve its defense as well. They’re capable of scoring 90+ points on any given day, and find several scorers in double digits each game. On the defensive end, the team has begun to find great success in poking the ball away and racking up steals.  

MBB | After bouncing back in the second half, the Marauders brought home the win 96-78!

Check it out⬇️

: https://t.co/W2m4XKKUIe

— McMaster Marauders (@McMasterSports) November 20, 2021

Despite a slow defensive start to the season, the Marauders quickly picked themselves up and have become much more alive on the defensive end. Last time out against the Algoma Thunderbirds they tallied together to set a single game season high of 22 steals, defying their typical reputation as an offense first team.  

The team is primarily based around offensive menace Jordan Henry, who holds a season statline of 22.7 points per game while shooting 54.1 per cent from the field and averaging 5.5 assists. The team is very top-heavy, but has a very strong group up top, including Sefa Otchere, Christian Bentley, Mychael Paulo and Mike Demagus, who commonly finish the game among the best performing leaders in several categories (minutes, points, assists, etc.).  

When asked about the early season success, Demagus commented on the brand of basketball the team has played and the culture found within the organization.  

“We all have one goal in common and that’s to win. Everyone on our team knows their role. Everyone on our team knows what they have to do for us to win and that’s where we come as a collective. No one outshines anyone else because everyone knows what they’ve got to do to win,” said Demagus.  

Demagus would later shift his focus to head coach Patrick Tatham, a highly respected coach in the league. Prior to coming to McMaster, Tatham was an assistant coach of the Maine Red Claws of the NBA’s G-League, where he coached future and former NBA players including (but not limited to) Malcolm Miller (NBA champion), Damion Lee, Abdel Nader and Ryan Kelly.  

“It’s great knowing we have someone with that type of experience that’s under our wing. He’s constantly trying to prepare us for the next level,” explained Demagus.  

“It’s great knowing we have someone with that type of experience that’s under our wing. He’s constantly trying to prepare us for the next level.”

Mike Demagus, point guard

Finally, Demagus explained the close culture within the team and how comfortable each player feels with one another. When asked to choose one word to describe the culture of the team, Demagus chose “brotherhood,” describing the closeness of the team and how the lack of anonymity provides an advantage to the Marauders.  

The rich culture was one of the most discussed reasons for success in the interview with Demagus, which soon became a common theme with the women crediting similar reasoning for their success.  

The highly successful McMaster women’s team is a highly balanced squad with significant depth up and down the roster. They revolve around star point guard Sarah Gates, who holds season averages of 25.5 points and 7.7 rebounds, while shooting 52.6 per cent from the field. She also holds a season high of 38 points, which was significant in her achieving the OUA player of the month.  

Beyond Gates, the team has a very deep rotation, where it’s common to see nearly every single player get minutes. Individual game point leaders regularly rotate through and many members of the team can step up when needed. Rebounds and assists are dispersed through the entire lineup and this has become one of the team's biggest strengths.  

Tori Rigas-Didomenico, a point guard for the Marauders, discussed the chemistry of the team and the drive that they show in always wanting to be the best that they can be.  

“From day one I could tell this was a cohesive group. It’s a “one team, one heartbeat” kind of thing. We’re working together on the court and off the court to have the most successful team possible . . . Our team is always ready to learn. We have that collective mindset and are pushing ourselves to the limit. I think that’s where our success comes from,” said Rigas-Didomenico.  

“From day one I could tell this was a cohesive group. It’s a “one team, one heartbeat” kind of thing. We’re working together on the court and off the court to have the most successful team possible."

Tori Rigas-Didomenico, point guard

When asked about the impact the coaching staff has had on the team's success and development, Rigas-Didomenico was very quick to praise the job of coach Theresa Burns and staff.  

“We have such amazing and committed coaches that care about us as players and people and that starts with coach Theresa Burns. She really knows how to connect with us on an individual level and make us the best players and people we can be. We all look up to her and see her as a role model, on and off the court,” explained Rigas-Didomenico.  

Just as Demagus was asked of the men's team, Rigas-Didomenico was asked to provide a one-word description of the culture within the organization and the answer she provided was very similar to that of Demagus. 

“It would have to be ‘home’ or ‘family’ — those two words really stand out to me,” said Rigas-Didomenico.  

Although there is no definitive answer, the culture of both teams seems to be a strong reason for their success. The men and women both feel extremely strong connections with their teammates and always try to work as a collective unit, pushing the boundaries both on and off the court.  

With a strong culture and coaching staff in place, it makes sense as to why the Marauders can recruit such high-level talent. It also makes sense that they can translate their relationships off the court into on-court chemistry and overall success.  

Photo by Kyle West

After you lose the trust of basketball coaches around Ontario University Athletics, how to do you bounce back to show them that you were worth a shot? You get named to not only the OUA All-Rookie team but the U Sports All-Rookie Team too. After just one season with the McMaster men’s basketball team, first-year guard Jordan Henry has proven a lot of naysayers wrong.

Henry, like most basketball players, first encountered the game through street basketball at just three years old. He first joined a team when he was in the fifth grade and has had quite a journey since then. Shorter than the average basketball player, Henry did not let his height stop him from going after what he loved.

“My love for basketball came from just watching it on television,” said Henry. “Watching players like Allen Iverson and Kobe Bryant, I wanted to be just like them when I was younger.”

Henry’s talent started to speak for itself when he was in the tenth grade and he went to Pine Ridge Secondary School, a school in Pickering, Ontario with a well-known basketball program. During this time, he also played for Team Canada along with first-year Duke sensation R.J. Barrett and was part of history when the under-19 team became the first national team to win gold in basketball at any International Basketball Federation or Olympic event.

C/O Noah Hoffman

The national team was led by the Ryerson University Rams’ head coach Roy Rana, so it seemed like the obvious fit for Henry to commit to Ryerson when it was time for him to choose where he would take his talents in post-secondary. But things didn't go exactly as planned.

Shortly after making the verbal decision, Henry decommitted. This decision had a lot of people scratching their heads, but for Henry, his decision was one that many high school students have made. With Ryerson’s campus downtown and close to his home, he knew he would not be getting the ‘university experience’, and class in a concrete jungle was not what he wanted.

Searching for his destination and before he landed at McMaster, he took a pit stop in London, ON.

“I committed and went to Western [University] but unfortunately, that didn't work out,” said Henry. “I was not focusing on school and I knew if I continued, I was going to flunk out. So, after playing one game, I decided to leave Western.”

C/O Noah Hoffman

Unfortunately for Henry, according to U Sports’ Eligibility Rules, a student-athlete who transfers from one U Sports member institution team to another after having been assessed one year of eligibility, must not participate in any competition (conference or non-conference) for a period of 365 days.

However, the one-year wait was the least of Henry’s problems. After bouncing from Ryerson to Western, despite his talent and accolades to prove it, a lot of coaches did not think he was worth the risk, except for Mac’s head coach Patrick Tatham.

“I knew Patrick from high school, and he took a chance on me,” said Henry. “I gained PT's trust by working hard and showing him I wanted this just as much as he did.”

So far, after just one season together, that chance has paid off for both Tatham and Henry.

“Mac has been a good fit for me,” Henry said. “At the start, it was kind of hard basketball wise and I thought I lost my rhythm, but as I worked hard and pushed through, I became more comfortable and it's been easy ever since.”

That in combination with a better understanding of university life thanks to his time at Western, and a few friendly faces including ex-Western teammate Damiann Prehay who also came to Mac this season, set Henry up for success.

https://www.instagram.com/p/BuzvhB-hHeX/?utm_source=ig_web_button_share_sheet

In a season of ups-and-downs for the Marauders, Henry was one of Mac’s most consistent players this season. Henry played in all 24 regular season games, starting 21, and had a total of 113 assists by the end of the season, which placed him fourth in assists in the OUA.

He also averaged 11.9 points per game, so it was no surprise when he was named to both the OUA and U Sports All-Rookie Teams. Though the recognition was a humbling honour for Henry, getting to prove those who doubted him wrong throughout the season are the moments that will stick with him forever.

“Winning the big games against Brock [University] and [the University of Wilfred] Laurier are moments I’ll remember,” said Henry. “But winning against Western will stick with me forever because not only did it show them that they lost a good player, it showed me that I made the right decision coming to Mac.”

The team player in every sense has a bright Marauder career ahead of him over the next few years. With goals to get better at basketball and one day make the U Sports Men's Basketball All-Canadian First Team, he hopes to one day play professional basketball and maybe even get into fashion.

 

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Photo by Kyle West

Men’s Volleyball - Forsyth Cup Playoffs

The McMaster men’s volleyball team is heading to the Ontario University Athletics volleyball semifinals for the 15th-straight season. After defeating the York University Lions 3-1 in the OUA quarter-finals, the Marauders are heading into the Final Four ranked fifth in the nation.

Several Marauders were also honoured with OUA recognition, with outside hitter Matt Passalent taking home the highest honour, OUA West Player of the Year. Fifth-year Andrew Richards took home the Dale Iwanoczko Award for his work off the court. Passalent and Richards were both named First Team All-Stars, while Craig Ireland was named to the Second Team. First-year middle Tyler Pavelic’s season was recognized with a spot on the All-Rookie team.

With six straight OUA titles, the journey to their seventh begins this weekend when the Marauders face the University of Windsor Lancers in a semi-final match-up. If they win, they will go on to play in the final game for the OUA Forsyth Cup. The game will be on Saturday, March 9 at 1 p.m. at Queen’s University.

https://www.instagram.com/p/Buo_HlthWVd/?utm_source=ig_web_copy_link

 

Women’s Basketball - U Sports Final Eight

After defeating the University of Ottawa Gee-Gees in the OUA finals to capture the Critelli Cup, the Marauders are heading to Ryerson University to play in the U Sports National Championships for the second-straight season. With the No. 2 seed in the tournament, the Marauders will face the No. 7 Concordia University Stingers.

Led by Critelli Cup game MVP Hilary Hanaka, the Marauders hope to see a different result in this year's National Championships compared to last year. The ladies headed out to Regina last year where they unfortunately did not finish where they wanted to. Losing in the first round to McGill University, the Marauders were not prepared for the level of play, but are hoping to see different results this time around.

Already defeating the Carleton University Ravens during the 2019 OUA semi-finals, who were also the 2018 U Sports Champions, the idea of going straight to the top does not seem so far off. Tip-off time is at 12 p.m. Thursday, March 7.

https://www.instagram.com/p/Bujafa4hYPe/?utm_source=ig_web_copy_link

 

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Photo C/O Kyle West

In the McMaster Athletics Hall of Fame, there are seven Black athletes, trainers and coaches who have made significant contributions to Marauder history over the years. Whether it was on the field or court or giving support to their team, the Black history of McMaster Athletics is undeniable.

Fast forward to today and there are a number of Black athletes at McMaster today who are also contributing to McMaster history. Although there is not yet an official Marauder Black History Month celebration, this article is the first step in celebrating the Black athletes who have given so much to this organization.

 

FOOTBALL

PAST: Kojo Aidoo

Running back Aidoo started playing for McMaster in 1998 and found immediate success after his first season, when he was named the Canadian Interuniversity Sport Rookie of the Year. Throughout his career, he continued to make Ontario University Athletics history for rushing and scoring. Helping McMaster get to their first-ever OUA Yates Cup Championship in 2000, he was named the Most Valuable Player of the OUA and the MVP of the championship game.

His outstanding talent made him a recipient of a number of awards including the Hec Crighton Award as the most outstanding player in Canada, the Howard Mackie Award as the Male Athlete of the Year in the CIS, the Ivor Wynne Award as McMaster’s Male Athlete of the Year in 2001 and being named a First-Team All-Canadian. Aidoo went on to be drafted into the Canadian Football League by Edmonton, playing for the Eskimos, Winnipeg Blue Bombers, Hamilton Tiger-Cats and Toronto Argos over the course of his professional career.

Image C/O marauders.ca

PRESENT: Justice Allin

Photo from Silhouette Photo Archives

The second-year running back has been an explosive player for the Marauders since arrival in 2017. When an injury cut his rookie year short just after week eight, he had already posted consecutive performances of over 100 yards receiving, and even had 225 all-purpose yards against the University of Toronto Varsity Blues the week before.

Even though his season was cut short, Allin was still named to the OUA All-Rookie Team for his contributions to the team. After recovering from his ACL injury, his return to the field in the 2018 season may not have been reminiscent of his rookie season, but his contributions did play a part in helping the Marauders secure a spot in the playoffs.

Unfortunately, due to a number of reasons on and off the field, Allin and Mac’s playoff run ended after the first round. With a new head coach for the 2019 season, and the possibility of Allin’s predecessor Jordan Lyons leaving for the CFL, the possibilities of what Allin can do for the Marauders in the next few years is something many are excited to see.

 

BASKETBALL

PAST: Titus Channer

It only took one year for Titus Channer to make an impact on the McMaster men’s basketball team. The 1993-1994 OUA Rookie of the Year went on to have a successful Marauder career, full of nation-wide recognition. He was named Second Team All-Canadian in 1994-95 and 1995-96 and received Ontario University Athletics Association Player of the Year, a First Team All-Canadian selection, and the McMaster Athlete of the Year Award twice (1996-1997 and 1997-1998).

The accolades for Channer did not end there, as in his senior year he won the Mike Moser Award as the Canadian University Basketball Player of the Year and the Howard Mackie Award. It did not end there for Channer, as he went on to play professional basketball in Europe and represented the Canadian men’s national basketball team.

Image C/O marauders.ca

PRESENT: David McCulloch

David McCulloch, a Hamilton local and Cardinal Newman star, chose to stay home and come to McMaster instead of a number of other offers. Deciding to come to a school who already had a star point guard, Adam Presutti, and wanting to learn from him speaks volumes about McCulloch’s character early on.

Today, the fifth-year senior has turned into the team's leader and star, surpassing 1000 points during his time at McMaster. For the 2017-2018 season he was named OUA Third-Team All-Star and in the summer, he joined Team Toronto with Team Canada’s head coach Roy Rana. A consistent leader on and off the court, McCulloch’s departure this year as he graduates will no doubt be seen in the 2018-2019 season.

With a team mainly comprised of first years and transfer, hopefully, not only his talent but the way he carried himself on and off the court will be the blueprint for the young team. As for McCulloch’s future, whether it is basketball-related or not it, it sure looks bright from here.

 

WRESTLING

PAST: Lawrence Holmes

Lawrence Holmes found great success during his time here as a Marauder. Winning the Canadian Interuniversity Athletic Union 61kg three times, it is no surprise that he was also a two-time recipient of the Ivor Wynne Trophy. Holmes was also an international wrestler while attending McMaster, participating in the 1982 Commonwealth Games and the 1984 Olympics, and a two-time World Team member. Holmes was also a three-time Canadian Open Champion winning in 1982, 1983 and 1984. But it did not end there. Following graduation, Holmes continued to compete globally and made another Olympic appearance in 1988.

Image C/O marauders.ca

PRESENT: Simi Jayeoba

A newcomer on the scene, Simi Jayeoba is a second-year wrestler. As one of two Black female wrestlers on the team, Jayeoba is in the process of making a name for herself. Jayeoba ranked in the top 10 in Ontario’s 67kg category last year and won silver early on this year at the York University Open. As a Black woman wrestler, her just being able to compete at this level is something worth celebrating. The level I engineering student still has a way to go to for her wrestling career at McMaster but is an exciting prospect to watch along the way. Although there are no Black women in the Marauder Hall of Fame as of yet, it's not too late for Jayeoba to be the first.

 

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Photos by Kyle West

By: Coby Zucker

Looking at the McMaster men’s basketball roster, the word “young” comes to mind, as nine of the 16 players on this year’s squad are rookies. With the addition of third-years Damiann Prehay and Yaw Antwi-Boasiako, and the return of Connor Gilmore, only four current players were on the roster last year.

Despite solid contributions from core veterans Matt Quiring and David McCulloch, this drastically different roster makes it is easy to see how top contenders might overlook the team. Even still, despite the youthful lineup, the Marauders are not interested in taking the path of least resistance and slapping the “growth” and “rebuilding” tags on the season.

🏀 FINAL: McCulloch's 23 points leads the way, as @MacMensBball pulls away in the fourth quarter to record the 97-80 win over Guelph!

Mac is 2-0 in the New Year, and improves to 6-7 in conference play. #GoMacGo pic.twitter.com/LKmkJ3UgAO

— McMaster Marauders (@McMasterSports) January 12, 2019

“Yeah, I know that there’s a lot of first-years,” said junior forward, Kwasi Adu-Poku. “But at the same time, I’m feeling like this is a really good chance for us to do something big. We wouldn’t really see it as a growth year because [head coach Patrick Tatham] brought in a lot of people who are ready to work, ready to go hard, already have a good idea of how to play and everything.”

Coach Tatham’s confidence in his rookies certainly shows. Freshman guards Tristan Lindo, Sefa Otchere and Jordan Henry are averaging 26.1, 20.3 and 25.6 minutes per game respectively, accounting for 28.2 points per game together.

The confidence is paying off, and the rookies are looking to keep up the trust and continue to earn the right to lengthy minutes in their first season of university-level play.

“[Coach Tatham] expects me to be more aggressive, play with confidence, be solid defensively and offensively, and just play with a lot of heart and effort,” said Otchere.

For Otchere, despite his solid numbers in the first half of the season, the adjustment to university ball has taken time.

“You want to do a lot of things because you’re not used to this level yet,” Otchere added. “But just trying to more composed, more relaxed, just understanding you don’t need to rush, everything will just come to me on the court.”

The amount of inexperience within the Marauder’s system has also catapulted the few returning players into leadership positions. Adu-Poku, only in his third year, is already finding himself in the veteran role.

“It’s a bit weird to process at times,” said Adu-Poku, “because I still feel like I’m pretty young myself. When I come into practice and see a lot of first-year guys kind of eager to learn, I realize I could at least give them a bit of mentorship in that respect. So I’m realizing that I’m more of a leader than I think I am.”

https://www.instagram.com/p/BpUla7-hwWd/

Adu-Poku was also quick to stress that leadership spots are not just doled out to the players who have been in the system the longest.

“I think with [coach Tatham’s] culture right now… I think he’s just really trying to show that anyone can be a leader in the sense that, if you’re willing to step up and fit the idea of what he wants to get done and just do what you do best, he’ll use you as someone that people could get advice from,” Adu-Poku explained.

In all, there is a pervasive sense that this Marauders squad, containing the few core veterans supported by a cast of motivated rookies, are still more than capable of putting together a strong campaign.

While the dominant Carleton University and Ryerson University teams might still be out of reach for the time being, the Marauders continue to gain university-level experience and build chemistry. Only getting better, the Mac men will look to continue to prove they are capable of knocking down teams previously thought to be well beyond striking distance as the season progresses.

 

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Photo by Kyle West

Both the men's volleyball team and women's basketball team took the weekend by storm with two victories each, while the men's basketball and women's volleyball teams won one out of their two games. Here are the stars of the weekend.

Sarah Gates

The second-year is no stranger to the Pita Pit Athlete of the Week award, most recently winning the weekend honour on Nov. 15, 2018, when she scored a career-high of 24 points. This weekend, she poured in 19 points for the Marauders in both of the team’s wins. Gates who was called to the 2018 Ontario University Athletics All-Rookie team, shot 50 per cent from the field and 40 per cent from the three, as well as collecting four rebounds in the win over Wilfrid Laurier University. Against the University of Guelph, she hit three of eight shots from three, and gave the team four steals and four rebounds.

 

Right side @MattColeP from @MACMVB and @macwbball guard Sarah Gates are the @PitaPitCanada Athletes of the Week. @mcmasteru #GoMacGo

READ ⬇️https://t.co/u7nAO5cvSh

— McMaster Marauders (@McMasterSports) January 14, 2019

 

Matt Passalent

After sitting out due to injury, Passalent hit the court for the first time of the regular season and did not miss a beat, being recognized as the Pita Pit Athlete of the Week for his efforts. Facing two U Sports top-10 opponents this weekend, the Marauders took home two victories and Passalent was a big part of both. The fourth-year had 10 kills, two aces and a block assist for 12.5 points Saturday against University of Windsor, and 15 kills and 18.5 points against Western University, which bumped them up to #4 in the national rankings.

 

There are 4️⃣ @mcmasteru teams ranked in this week's @usportsca Top 10s, with @MACMVB and men's wrestling both moving up two spots!

♂️🏐⬆️4️⃣
♀️🏀↔️4️⃣
🤼‍♂️⬆️6️⃣
🤼‍♀️↔️9️⃣#GoMacGo pic.twitter.com/qqPgOWV8jK

— McMaster Marauders (@McMasterSports) January 15, 2019

 

David McCulloch

In the Marauders’ second victory of the New Year, coming against the Guelph Gryphons, McCulloch contributed 23 points shooting 64 per cent from the field. The 97-80 road win seemed like just the fire the Marauders needed to bring it home and win again. Unfortunately, the Laurier Golden Hawks had other plans. Despite the fifth-year guard being the second highest leading scorer of the game with 15 points, the Golden Hawks came for revenge and defeated the Marauders 87-73 at home.

 

Jessie Narin

Narin led the Marauders offensively in both games against Windsor and Western this weekend. With 17 kills and 23 points, including five aces and a solo block, she helped Mac defeat Western on Saturday night in the fifth set. Narin, a right side, also led offensively the night before in the loss to Windsor, with 14 kills, three aces and a block assist for a team- and match-high 17.5 points.

This weekend McMaster basketball will face the Lakehead University Timberwolves in back-to-back home games this weekend, with the women playing at 6:00 p.m. and the men at 8:00 p.m. on Friday and Saturday. Both volleyball teams will then take over Burridge on Sunday, as the women and men host the Brock University Badgers this Sunday at 1:00 p.m. and 3:00 p.m. respectively.

 

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In playoff games, especially in basketball, one should always expect the unexpected. The McMaster women’s basketball team experienced a little taste of their own “March Madness” during the Ontario University Athletics Critelli Cup playoffs.

Leading up to the playoffs, the Marauders proved to not only to those watching but to themselves what they were made of. When several key players graduated at the end of last season, it was up to the mix of new veterans and younger players to step up to the plate.

“I think this season has been a growing experience for our team and an opportunity to prove what we have and how great our team truly is,” said fourth-year forward Linnaea Harper. “We are a lot stronger in our ability to score and play defence across the board, so overall we are more cohesive as a team this year.”

That cohesiveness began to solidify over the summer when the team went to Taiwan to compete in an invitational tournament.

“Having that stress-free time to play basketball with no pressure to win gave us more time to really bond and have fun with one another,” said Harper.

As the season went on, and the wins began to increase, this bond only became stronger.

“[My] last couple years have been amazing, but this year there was a different team connection and that connection off the court really helped with our chemistry on the court,” said fourth-year guard Hilary Hanaka. “Everyone was always so excited for one another, it did not matter who was scoring as long as they were in a McMaster jersey.”

The team’s handwork in the regular season was recognized as Hanaka was named an OUA First-Team All-Star and Harper an OUA Third-Team All-Star. First-year guard Sarah Gates was also recognized for her efforts, being named to the OUA All-Rookie Team.

“I knew I was having a good season but you never know with awards, so it was really a nice surprise,” said Gates.

With a regular season record of 20-4, the Marauders sat in first place in the OUA West Division by season’s end. After a well-deserved bye in the first round of the playoffs, the team regrouped to defeat the University of Western Mustangs 61-51 in the OUA quarter-final match.

The playoff madness began when the Marauders faced the University of Ottawa Gee-Gees, a team they had lost to by just two points earlier in the season. Going into that game, one of the Marauders’ biggest problems was the size mismatch with the Gee-Gees’ 6’5” forward Angela Ribarich.

“We knew we had to double her when she had the ball in the post and get them to prove that they can make their outside shot,” said Harper.

Brigette Lefebvre-Okankwu also posed a threat with 14 points, 11 rebounds and three steals, while guard Brooklynn McAlear-Fanus contributing 14 points of her own. The Marauders were ultimately able to pull away with the win thanks to Harper nailing both of her free throws in the last eight seconds of the game, sealing a 47-46 Marauder win.

“When I was shooting the free throws, I blocked out the idea that these were basically the biggest free throws of my life,” said Harper. “But after I got the first one and I heard the crowd roar I felt a wave of relief knowing that I tied the game.”

That roar of the crowd was the cheers of hundreds of McMaster athletes, students and supporters in the stands being the perfect soundtrack to the nail-biting win.

“It was a redemption game because we fell by only a few points the last time,” said Hanaka.

“We knew we could do it, and being excited both on and off the court and the huge crowd that came out to support was all a huge bonus for us. That’s a game that I will never forget.”

The win against Ottawa meant that for the first time in 11 years, the Marauders would host the Critelli Cup final with the undefeated Carleton Ravens as their opponent. The Marauders hoped to give the Ravens their first loss of the season, and by the end of the first half with Mac up 36-28, it looked like they could pull it off.

“We had a really great first half against Carleton and that felt really good,” said Harper. “I do not think Carleton has experienced a game like they did [in the OUA finals].”

But after the break, the Ravens came out strong with a 12-0 run and managed to stretch their lead.

By early in the fourth quarter, Mac had managed to bring the deficit down to two at 55-53, but unfortunately, Hanaka, who was already at three fouls, committed her fourth. Making the obvious but tough choice, head coach Theresa Burns took her out the game and the Ravens were able to bring the score back up to 60-53 before she returned.

“I was a little disappointed in myself to foul that late in the game knowing the next couple of minutes would be crucial for our team,” said Hanaka. “But I tried not to hang my head and not show my emotions, not only to my team but to the other team. I told myself If I’m going be on the bench I need to stay engaged and make sure I’m supporting my team in any way that I can.”

When she returned at the five-minute mark, she played carefully so that she would be able to contribute in the best way possible. With Hanaka back in, the Marauders managed to bring the deficit back down to a five, but unfortunate fouls from Mac and proficient shooting by the Ravens lost them the game.

Though the Critelli Cup final did not end how they would have wanted, the Marauders are still grateful to be in the position they are in.

“As much as it sucks to lose, I do not think our team is feeling defeated,” said Harper. “If anything, we should feel more confident knowing that we can complete it with the top teams in the nation.”

Making their first appearance in the national tournament since playing host in 2011, the U Sports Championship hosted by Regina is the next challenge for the Marauders.

“I’m super excited to go to nationals,” said Hanaka. “Our team has come together really nicely

as a unit right now, we just have that little extra fire when it comes time to play the big games at the U Sports championships.”

With the tournament schedule set, the Marauders will face McGill University’s Martlets to start the competition. The quarter-final match up will be the first time the two teams will face each other since Mac lost 59-70 in their first preseason game. Five months and over 20 wins later, the Marauders are more than ready for whatever nationals has to offer them.

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The McMaster women’s basketball team has returned from Thunder Bay, the last stop of their five-city road trip, and are now sitting comfortably in first place of the Ontario University Athletics West Division.

One of the biggest contributors to the team is fourth-year guard Hilary Hanaka, who leads the team with an average of 16 points per game. Though she is now a key component of the winning team, Hanaka did not find it easy to assimilate to university-level basketball coming from high school during her first year as a Marauder.

“I actually found it to be a lot different than I thought it would be,” said Hanaka. “The pace at the university level and the speed of the game is so much different than in high school, but it’s still a lot of fun.”

One of the biggest changes coming to Mac was leaving her sister Julia Hanaka behind after playing together for two years at St. Mary’s High School. So when her younger sister made the decision to play for McMaster in Hilary’s third year, it was everything she could have ever wanted.

“When we realized we were actually on a university varsity basketball team together, especially because this doesn’t happen that often, we were so ecstatic,” said Hilary. “Now it’s just so much fun. I think I get more excited to see her succeed than I do myself.”

In the duo’s first year together in maroon, the younger Hanaka did not get the minutes she hoped for. But in her second year, with the departure of many senior players, her opportunities to play increased.

“Being able to get those minutes on court with her has been so memorable to me,” Hilary said.

"When we realized we were actually on a university varsity basketball team together, especially because this doesn’t happen that often, we were so ecstatic.”

 

Hilary Hanaka
Fourth-year guard
McMaster women’s
Basketball Team

“The first time we played together, I passed to her and that led to her scoring her first three and it was just an amazing feeling.”

As someone who does not show a lot of emotion when she plays, watching her sister in that moment made it impossible to keep a grin off her face.

“Seeing her hit that shot and how happy she was made me so happy,” Hilary added.

Julia is not the only younger player benefiting from having her older sister leading the way. As such a key component on the team in her fourth year, Hilary and the other seniors have been leading by example both on and off the court for the younger players.

“When I first started, I looked up to Danielle Boiago who was one of my senior veterans when I came,” said Hilary. “She was always the first to every ball during the game and the first [one in] and last one out of the gym.”

Now that she has become a senior player, Hilary hopes to set an example at all times to show the younger players that success does not just come to you naturally — you have to work for it.

“The younger girls are starting to realize it, especially the ones who have had to step up the last few games,” said Hilary.

These games include the games the veteran guard was sidelined because of to a knee injury.

“I was playing on a sore knee for a while and in one of the games I was hit,” Hilary said. “I continued to try and play and practice on it but finally I was like, ‘this knee is too bad’.”

After having it examined further, she learned she had torn a ligament on the lateral side of her knee.

“I’m trying to play through the pain as best I can right now and at the end of the season I’ll take care of it,” said Hilary.

So far, the elder Hanaka has definitely been playing well through the pain. She was awarded the Pita Pit Athlete of the Week upon her return to the hardwood. With an 11-game winning streak and only four losses this season, the Marauders will more than likely remain in first place in their division. But Mac’s starting guard knows they cannot let it get to their head.

“We have to just take each game as it comes and not get too ahead of ourselves,” said Hilary. “Whatever game is next is just as important as the one after that, so just going into each practice and game with that mindset to get us in the position we want to be in come playoffs.”

Prior to the Thunder Bay road trip, Hilary knew that getting two road wins would be crucial for the last leg of the season.

“It’s always hard to play away from your home court and in someone else’s gym,” the guard said. “Our main focus is just to play our own game and focus on our own stuff, rather than trying to break down each and every one of their offences, because in the end it’s what we do that will lead us to our success.”

With three games left in the regular season, it is up to Hilary and the Marauders to remain in the number one spot.

“Right now we are just making sure we are focusing on our reads and making sure we have that defensive rotation we have been talking about all season,” Hilary said. “If we do that, I think we’ll be more than okay.”

With Hilary leading the way, the McMaster women’s basketball team is on the right road to suc-cess this season.

“I hope that I can remain being an impact player on and off the court,” said Hilary. “I just want to bring that excitement to the team and make sure they’re aware that we have so much potential and if we bring that confidence within each other and in ourselves each and every game we’re going to be okay no matter who is against us.”

Being that impact player is nothing new to the venerated guard. With a promising future on the horizon for the Marauders, this will not be the last we hear of Hilary Hanaka.

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Once again, the women’s basketball team is securely in the U Sports top 10, maintaining their ranking throughout the season. The Marauders’ program is usually a stalwart in the national rankings, but this year looks a little different than those in recent memory.

Entering the 2017-2018 season, the Mac women found themselves without their top scorer and one of the most dominant basketball players in the country, Danielle Boiago. The former U Sports Player of the Year is currently playing professionally in the Netherlands, and that left a hole in the Marauders’ roster.

“[The season] started with us kind of doubting ourselves a little bit because we just lost Danielle Boiago and that was a big loss for our team,” said Marauders’ forward Linnaea Harper. “But slowly we were like ‘we are still really good and we have new good incoming players and still have players that played last year that play really good’. And with age comes more experience and skill so every year is something to look forward to. At the beginning of the year we were kind of getting used to the new team and now we are really gelling. I think beginning in 2018 we have really stepped up and shown that we can compete at the highest level.”

Harper, a fourth-year kinesiology major, is one of the key reasons behind the team’s success this year. With Boiago’s nearly 20 points and seven rebounds per game missing from the box score, there was a definite void that needed to be filled between Harper and the rest of the Marauders.

“In terms of scoring I had to step up but also get more players involved,” Harper said. “Trying to distribute the ball to other players to score was one of my goals and we have done really well with that. Across the board there are four or five people at least in double digits. How do you defend that?”

While the starting forward missed some contests due to injury, through 13 games played this season, Harper finds herself in or close to the top spot in every major statistical category on the Marauders this season.

Harper leads the team in assists and blocks per game, while sitting in second on the team in points, rebounds and steals per game. Harper also has the third best three-point shooting percentage in the nation with an impressive 44.4 per cent from beyond the arc.

Harper’s excellence on the court is directly a result of being around basketball for most of her life. After being scouted by a teammate’s parent on her soccer team in Grade 3, Harper tried out for the Newmarket All-Star team. After having to commit to one sport over the other in high school, Harper threw herself into basketball and that commitment has paid dividends.

Her time on the hard court and the dedication she brings with her shows up every night on the score sheet. Recently integrating caffeine into her pregame routine, Harper likes getting to the gym pretty early before games, taking time to work on her shot and making sure she is able to free her mind and calm her nerves before the first whistle.

Currently in her fourth year with the team, Harper still enjoys the moments of victory like any athlete, but can also appreciate the efforts of the younger players around her.

“I’m just really thankful for all the opportunities I have been given with being a Maruader athlete,” Harper added. “I am so glad I am here. It’s home.”

“I think when the end of the game is done and we have won, that is number one,” Harper said. “After a stressful close game, pulling out that win is the most satisfying thing because you worked your tail off the entire game. I also think seeing the younger players score and get into it has been something inspiring to me. Because I know I really struggled in my first few years. So seeing Sarah Gates, who has been playing so well. I played with her when she was in Grade 9 and I was in Grade 12 and just seeing what she was then and seeing her be successful now is super cool. Because it wasn’t like that for me, so I kind of live vicariously through her in that way.”

While it has not always been easy for the kinesiology major, being under the tutelage of coach Theresa Burns has definitely been one of the reasons Harper has enjoyed her time as a Marauder so much and continued to succeed on the court.

“She is amazing,” Harper said. “She is relentless. She isn’t much of a ‘yell in your face if you make a mistake’ kind of coach. She knows how to balance the friendship with the ‘hey I’m still your coach, we have to do certain things in order to move forward’. I really respect that because that is a hard relationship to strike with people. Being able to have that respect for her but also be her friend and athlete and player is awesome.”

While Harper is planning on returning to the Marauders next season, there is no time like the present. Based on how well the team is performing, the Newmarket product is dead set on taking her team to the championship this season.

“Obviously I want to win everything,” Harper said. “But I think our first goal is to win [the Ontario University Athletics championship] and then from there just slowly chipping our way at winning a national championship. Every athlete’s dream is winning a national championship. Striving high for that is important. Definitely to win it all, that’s my goal.”

At the end of the day, statistics and trophies make for great conversation, but memories and experiences ultimately stick with an athlete for a lot longer.

“I’m just really thankful for all the opportunities I have been given with being a Maruader athlete,” Harper added. “I am so glad I am here. It’s home.”

With Harper chief among a group of incredibly talented players, the women’s basketball team is positioned to take the country by storm once again this season. Winning is sweet, but winning for a place you consider home is even sweeter.

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Reviewing the box score following McMaster University’s men’s basketball team’s 90-76 victory over the Western Mustangs, one stat line stands out: 21 points, seven rebounds and one assist. It is safe to say that was a huge night for Kitchener native Sasha Simic.

Simic first picked up a basketball at the age of six years old, but at the time it was just one of many sports the young athlete played. It wasn’t until Simic’s older brother began to play basketball in high school that he too started to take the sport seriously. So in the sixth grade, he decided to drop all other sports to really focus on basketball and has been playing competitively ever since.

Simic first left Kitchener three years ago to pursue his post-secondary career, attending three institutions on both sides of the border. As someone who has experienced both, Simic understands first-hand that there are pros and cons to playing in both countries.

“American basketball is a little more athletic,” Simic said. “For example they have a lot of taller guys who jump higher. But Canadian basketball is on the rise simply because they play a lot smarter.”

Although the top Canadian teams may not be as naturally athletic as the top American teams, Simic points out that Canadian teams, like the University of Carleton’s men’s basketball team, are successful because they approach the sport from a more tactical angle.

Simic, like a lot of young Canadian basketball players, has already had extensive experience playing basketball in a variety of situations.

“It has been a long journey, but a successful one,” said Simic.

Beginning in high school at Cameron Heights Collegiate Institute, Simic had the opportunity to play down south at Vincennes University, a junior college in Indiana. Unfortunately for Simic, a broken leg cut his time in Indiana short.

“That process of getting back to being myself was a long eight-month process,” Simic said.

After spending a year at Collin County College in Texas following his recovery, Simic decided it was time to come back home.

“I mainly made the decision because of the new coaching staff,” said Simic. “Patrick Tatham is a well-known coach as well as a players’ coach that I had heard a lot of great things about.”

After a little push from McMaster’s director of athletics and former Toronto Raptors General Manger Glen Grunwlad, and knowing that he would be able to play in front of his support system, Simic was sold.

Simic’s support system consists of his parents, his mother’s boyfriend and grandparents, but most importantly his older brother Nemanja Simic. Anyone who has been to a home game this season knows his brother is the most vocal out of the group. Often heard chirping the officials and cheering on other teammates, but above all, supporting his brother.

“He’s a big part of my life,” said Simic. “He’s there with me before and after games, and sees me at my low and at my highs. He understands the most what I’m putting into this.”

Returning home to such an important bond after being away for two years is an experience Simic does not take for granted.

“I don’t only look up to him on the floor as a player, but off of it,” said Simic. “It’s a bond that can’t be described in words.”

Unfortunately for Simic and the Marauders, support from home has not been enough. Currently boasting a 3-13 record, the Mac men mainly struggle to close out games in the fourth quarter. One constant bright sport in all three of their wins has been the effort Simic puts in on the court.

“[Coach Tatham] has just really been challenging me these last couple of weeks, especially going into the New Year to stay aggressive and be the missing piece we’re looking for,” said Simic. “I try to come through every night, and sometimes you do, sometimes you don’t. But one thing I understand is that you can’t stay in the past you have to keep moving forward.”

On Jan 24. McMaster will face their third opponent in their six-game road trip, the Wilfrid Laurier Golden Hawks who beat the Marauders in Hamilton during their last match.

“We just have to go out and compete like we did against Western,” said Simic. “Our backs are against the wall for a playoff spot so we just have to keep that in mind and play every game as if it is a playoff game from here on out.”

All hope is not lost for the Marauders if they are able to be consistent and win their next few games they have a chance to clinch a playoff spot. Like Simic said, every game going forward should be played like it is their last, or their season will come to an end a lot sooner than they would like.

 

Photos by Rick Zazulak

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