When Ashley MacSporran took on the role as head coach of the Brock women’s basketball team back in June, she was only one of the few new faces joining the program. At the head of it all, MacSporran brought on her own coaching staff, but also needed to make roster additions.
The Badgers were coming off a season that saw five key players graduate: starting point guard Jena Yumol, starting forward Kate Harpur, starting guard Kayla Santilli, key role player Becky Ralph, and veteran guard Dayna Howlett. Along with those five, Karly Ruetz and Nikita Chappell — a couple of freshmen — did not return for year two. By the middle of this season Chrissy Sirignano and Adonaelle Mousambote were no longer with the team. Essentially the Badgers had only four players return from the year prior.
Even with the graduated players and an incomplete roster, MacSporran would not use the word rebuild to describe her team’s situation. MacSporran, a former U Sports athlete herself, instead found ways to fill the team’s vacant holes.
She got Bridget Atkinson and Jessica Morris, two guards who essentially would take over the roles Yumol and Ralph played a year prior. Atkinson and Morris both transferred from Guelph and were coached by MacSporran in their first year with the Gryphons, when the coach was an assistant with the team.
Then MacSporran also worked with what she already had on her roster. Kira Cornelissen, a fourth year forward, who got minimal minutes playing behind Harpur for three years, saw her role increased. The larger role meant more touches offensively for Cornelissen, which led to her averaging 20 points in 12 games.
Third year guard Melissa Tatti would continue to play her key role of being a ball handler, perimeter defender and shooter for the Badgers. Second year guard Baelie Campbell and fourth year Alex Symonds both saw increased roles for Brock, as both were inserted into the starting five.
The story for the Badgers, however, was the unfortunate bad luck of not being able to stay healthy. They only had all nine players healthy for eight of the 19 regular season games. It started with both Atkinson and Morris missing all of preseason play. Atkinson would join the lineup to begin the season, and join the starting lineup in the team’s second game. Morris would not play until the fourth game of the season.
Also bothered by injuries this season were: Tatti, who missed one game; Kira Cornelissen would go down with a concussion and miss the final seven games of the season and the lone playoff game; and guard Allie Columbus would miss the final five games.
Even with the bad luck the Badgers found a way to pull out a 8-11 season and lock in a home court playoff game as the number eight seed in the OUA. This team became known for their toughness and ability to play with adversity.
That’s why when the Badgers hosted Lakehead for the quarterfinal playoff game, the belief was still there that Brock could win even with Cornelissen, Atkinson (who got a concussion during the final game of the season) and Columbus out.
The Badgers took to the court with six players and kept it close early, but would eventually fall 67-49. Morris led the way with 14 points on 4-of-8 shooting from three and six rebounds. First year guard from Portugal, Ana Sofia Rua also added 14 points, nine rebounds and two steals.
The highlight this season for the Badgers was their competitive level. They came very close to beating some of the top OUA teams. They took a 17-2 McMaster team to overtime, before falling 94-90. Their best game of the season came against 18-1 Queen’s when they dropped a 79-72 outcome. They also kept it close during the first half against 13-6 Ryerson before the Rams would pull away.
The 2016-17 season in more ways than not was a success for the Badgers. The first chapter of MacSporran’s coaching career is over, but this season showed that there are some good things to come.
No one from this season’s roster is graduating, so the Badgers will retain their core roster. They’ve also already added one local recruit in Miranda Smith and MacSporran is working on adding more talent from the Niagara region.
This wasn’t a rebuild year for the Badgers, but proof that this team, even with a lack of depth, can compete against the best of the OUA. It should be expected the Badgers only get better from here, and MacSporran is the right coach to lead the way.