The UTM women’s varsity basketball team won the OCCR Extramural championships this past weekend on January 28, a tournament they hosted in the RAWC. The women solidified their spot in the semifinals game by beating Lakehead University and Laurier-Brantford University in the divisional rounds. Bypassing the quarterfinals game, because of their divisional success, gave them a boost which helped them outscore UTSC in the semi-finals and Humber in the championships.
Even though the women started off the tournament slow, they managed to dig themselves out of a slump and respond by playing sound basketball in the semi-finals against UTSC. Daesi Reale was a contested point guard that helped lead her team to their optimal performance. She sneakily manoeuvred herself around UTSC defenders, opening up scoring opportunities for herself and her teammates.
Late in the second quarter, UTM showed some fatigue, allowing four uncontested points. But with three seconds left, UTM’s shooting guard, Emily Goetz, hit a three-point shot from deep behind the arch giving the Eagles a five-point advantage, 20-15, going into the second half.
The third quarter saw more fouls than it saw points. Sarah-May Edwardo was the only scorer for UTM, sinking a jump shot for two points, allowing her team to keep the five-point lead going into the final stretch.
In the fourth-quarter, UTM was a more focused and composed team. They created more opportunities for themselves and clearly won in ball possession time, eliminating UTSC’s chance at making a comeback.
Possibly the most exciting point throughout the entire tournament, next to winning it, was when fourth-year UTM biotechnology student and shooting guard, Caitlyn Azzalini, tried to score off a layup opportunity but was brutally pushed out of bounds by an infuriated UTSC defender. Azzalini got up, displeased with the unsportsmanlike play, but channelled her aggression moments later into dribbling the ball past UTSC defenders and making an acrobatic shot, scoring the Eagles the final points of the game and solidifying the inevitable victory.
Azzalini was the Eagles’ leading scorer in the semi-finals, undoubtedly proving herself to be player-of-the-game. She thought that while the team lacked offense, they were strong defensively. She took the opportunity on many occasions to run past UTSC defenders, receive the ball from her defender after “leaking out as a runner,” and capitalize for easy baskets.
Azzalini took the hard foul at the end of the game and responded with athleticism and selflessness, which are two qualities essential to the foundation of championship-calibre teams. “I did let out my anger a little bit, because it wasn’t a fair foul. But I’m happy that I came back with the foul shot and was able to keep my focus for the rest of the game. I would say my response after the foul was my proudest moment because it was all about getting them back as a team. It was better to score on them and not talk back,” says Azzalini.
In the championships game, the Eagles led for the majority of the time. It was truly a team effort with everyone getting a chance to play. Once they got the lead, the team did a great job at containing Humber’s erratic runs. “We were up by 14 points at one point. The team did a great job at containing Humber’s key players, and clicked on the defensive side. This was great to see, as that is an area we have been struggling [with] lately,” says head coach Salee Johnson-Edwards.
Humber made a last-minute run in the fourth quarter to cut the lead with three clutch three-point shots made by their best shooting guard. But the free-throw shooting down the stretch from the numerous amounts of fouls allowed UTM to hold onto the lead and for the win.
Coach Johnson-Edwards speaks on why her team is as disciplined and mature as they make themselves seem on the court: “Teams are defined as either a running team, a rebounding team, or a shooting team. I try to lead my team as a blue-collar team, meaning we strive to outwork the competition in all areas,” she says. “So when my ladies get fouled or caught up with talking to the referees or dealing with other team’s theatrics, I nip it in the bud right away and let them know they can handle it in two ways. They can get caught up in the emotions and talk smack back, or they can put their energy into getting buckets and let the score do the talking. Winning the game makes us feel a lot better.”