The UTM Eagles women’s basketball team defeated the UTSC Maroons in their first home game with a 43-28 win.

Coach Jack Krist headed into this game with hopes of a UTM team composed of six returning players and five newcomers producing good chemistry through “correct passing and organized set plays”, he said—and the team delivered.

The Eagles started out slowly, gradually coming into the match. Their strategy was to let the Maroons attack first and learn how to deal with their routine plays. The Maroons pressured early in the game with their guard, Alexandra Nolasco, coordinating their every set play in style.

Nolasco was cautious at first, keeping possession of the ball to get the Maroons to pass it around and create some interaction between the UTSC players before taking any risks. Nolasco made an excellent cross-court assist to Danielle Ridart at the three-minute mark. Ridart took her opportunity to shoot, unmarked, from the three-point line. But the Eagles’ defence was effective. Navi Sohal made a brilliant block with 13 minutes left in the half following a UTM turnover to prevent the Maroons from capitalizing on their counterattack.

The Eagles increased their efforts on the offensive end. Taya Rutty managed to reach for the rebound quicker than the opposing offence and score. Daesi Reale was later able to brand an excellent one-hand pass to Genevieve Maltais, who was about to convert from the three-point line. The teams were tied at 11-11. Chelsae Bartholomeow grabbed the ball after a UTSC turnover and came close to giving her teammates the lead, but was unable to follow through. The Maroons responded immediately, with Nolasco once again her team’s insurance. She retained the ball before making it into the paint through a screen to attempt a shot from close range.

The next few minutes saw the ball bounce from one end of the court to the other. Then the Eagles survived a scare as the ball rebounded three times in their zone before landing in the hands of the determined Andjela Ocicek, who successfully struck from the three-point line. The fans awoke to cheer on their respective teams for the last five minutes of the half. The Eagles offence came to life two minutes before the end of the half when Lea Alilovic went coast to coast, dribbling from UTM’s side of the court to penetrate UTSC’s paint and score on a successful layup. The lead slipped from the Maroons’ fingers, and at half-time the Eagles were leading 26-18.

The second half revolved around the Eagles. Four minutes after the restart, Rutty effected a great defensive play, making three consecutive blocks in the paint. Nolasco forced a UTM turnover, but Rutty was on hand to deny her a scoring chance.

Eight minutes into the second half, Sajana drove the ball inside the paint and scored in a beautiful solo effort. The Eagles stepped up their game and passed the ball around quicker than in the first half, taking advantage of Maroons’ turnovers. Rutty captivated Eagles fans with her non-stop threat in the Maroons’ paint. Sohal passed the ball to Rutty, who netted before the two Maroons centres had a chance to contain her. With nine minutes to go, UTM’s Alicia Pokhoy stole the ball from the adversary’s guard and ran alone into the paint to convert from a simple layup. UTSC, desperate to reorganize and come back into the match, called for a minute-long timeout that changed nothing. Pokhoy was again at the centre of two more of the Eagles’ counterattacks. Sohal repeatedly assisted Rutty, who scored from within the paint amid a scattered opposing defence to make the final score 43-28.

“I’m proud of the girls!” said Krist. “Sure, they did start with a slow tempo, losing by a margin, but they grew into the game and I saw what I was looking for: chemistry. This performance can only improve for the next few games.

“My only negative point is the lack of points won from the free throws,” he continued. “Out of 24 free-throws, they only capitalized on seven of them. We’ll get that resolved in practice.”

Rutty was also impressed with her team’s performance. “I’ve been on this team for two or three years now and I can say we’ve had a good start to the season tonight. We kept positive, preserved our momentum, and persevered throughout the game,” she said.

On UTSC’s side, spirits weren’t as high, though the team intends to learn from their mistakes during the game.

“What I can say is that tonight was a team job, and I hope it will continue to be that way, because it’s only through team[work] that we can improve,” said Nolasco. “We need to step our game up concerning our strategy in offence, because their defence was for sure ready tonight. They got the ball around to each other quicker than we did and we have to learn from that.”