Photo By: Jonah Dayton
The last time the Badgers’ women’s basketball team played a game was on March 8, 2020, just five days before Brock — and the rest of the world, seemingly — shut down due to COVID-19. That final game was the 2020 U Sports National Championship game, where the Badgers ultimately fell to the Saskatchewan Huskies, but put a cap on what was unquestionably the greatest season in program history.
Now, over 18 months later, the Badgers still hold the title of reigning OUA champions and reigning national silver medalists. The team, of course, looks much different than it did two years ago. Of the “core four” who led the 2019-20 team to unparalleled heights, only Sam Keltos remains. Melissa Tatti, Kristin Gallant, and Jessica Morris have all since graduated, while Keltos is in her final year of eligibility.
With Tatti gone, the offence is set to revolve around Keltos. She is undoubtedly the Badgers’ best player, and will look to build off a tremendous 2019-20 season that included an OUA All-Star selection in addition to the team hardware. At 6’3, she can use her size and inside touch to finish over smaller defenders down low, yet is also coming off a year where she shot over 40 per cent from three. Defensively, she is among the best shot blockers in the country; her presence around the rim alone is enough to alter shots and turn would-be layups into awkward floaters.
Head coach Mike Rao, who was named the OUA and U Sports Coach of the Year in 2019-20, certainly has no shortage of options when it comes to supplementing Keltos and replacing the three lost starters from a season ago. Rao and his staff brought in a class of new recruits, both transfers and rookies, while a number of returning players who had limited roles last season are set to take a step forward this year.
Among the transfers include Mackenzie Robinson, who, after four successful years at Laurentian, is playing her final OUA season here at Brock. Victoria Lawrence, who was named an OCAA All-Star playing for George Brown in 2019-20, and Ivana Twumasi, who last played for Humber College of the OCAA, will all see significant roles as the season progresses. Jenneke Pilling and Meagan Charbonneau are likely to see more minutes than they did a year ago, while rookies Madalyn Weinert, Olivia Fiorucci, and Ilijana Vukovic have already gotten some preseason run in the early going.
The Badgers went 2-2 through their first four exhibition games, though both losses, one to Ryerson and one to Carleton, came by just one point, while both wins came by 20-plus. Rao has used the depth he has acquired to get a good look at his roster in advance of the season opener on Nov. 3.
“We wanted to see who plays with some confidence, who’s on the boards, who plays well defensively, who plays well offensively, I think I’m just looking for pieces, that’s all,” said Rao. “We were just going to try to get as many people in as we can, keep rotating some players and see what that brings.”
Despite some promising signs in the preseason, there are still areas where Rao says the team needs improvement.
“We need some more shooters, we need some better defenders, and we need some better ball handlers,” said Rao. “That’s my goal going forward, looking to achieve those things. I think with those things comes a little bit of success, a little bit of continuity, and comes a little better team play.”
While opening night rotations aren’t yet set, Rao says he will use the remaining preseason games to see as many players as possible, and will then put together a game plan ahead of Nov. 3.
“That’s what the preseason is for,” he said. “I’ll work rotations out this week, but I’ve got an idea [of them]. I think we can play nine or 10 players, I think we can play them at any given time, I just have to put them in the right position. I think that will be the tell; can I put them in situations where they can be successful?”
Provided students are fully vaccinated and have completed Brock’s COVID-19 self-screening survey the day of, tickets for the season/home opener on Nov. 3, and all future other home games, are free for Brock students. The women’s team will kick things off at 6 p.m. before the men’s team tips off at 8 p.m.
Per Brock Sports policy, students must enter through the Art and Val Fleming Commons doors and check-in at the top of the ramp just outside of Hungry Badger (the same ramp you take when writing exams in Beddis). To reserve tickets for Wednesday’s home opener, click here. For step-by-step instructions on how to reserve tickets, click here.