The Eagles lost big this Saturday, February 9th to the Niagara College Knights 103 – 64. Don’t let Jiana Alnajjar know that because she plays as though there is no scoreboard. There was a special moment of recognition for her as this was her final home game with the Eagles. Her parents brought flowers for her, there was a standing ovation and tears—I will not comment on if they were my own or not—welled up in a few lucky spectators’ eyes.
It was a loss born of a broken down starting five. Janella Viado and Trisha Ann Vo connect so well with each on the court they are near impossible to slow down. The Knights took the lead early with two quick buckets on a defense just setting their feet, not an issue because a paint slashing Viado finds Vo sitting on at the elbow three for a cool spot jumper. On the next possession, Viado forces a turnover, runs the court through the defense, pinpoint passes through a tight window to a once again calm and three-point line sitting Vo. A smooth long-range shot ties the game at six and, despite the blips in their defensive game, the Eagles looked threatening led by those two guards and Alnajjar’s hustle.
After a 6-0 run that made the score 12-6 for the Knights, Viado’s pass to Tasja Rhooms as she cut through the paint with a defender engaged, leads to one of two free throws. The Eagles free throw shooting percentage hovered around 50 per cent most of the game which is always an issue when point off possessions are scarce and the transition game depends on Vo and Viado’s speed, which eventually gave out. Vo seemed to be fighting through a leg injury which forced her to sub in and out of the game much to the chagrin of the Eagles. Adding to the list of injuries, Viado went down halfway through the second quarter with an apparent knee injury and would be out for the rest of the game. That was the real dagger in the Eagles’ chance to win. With the score at 37 – 17 in Niagara’s favour, down their top three-point shooter and their court-commander, the Eagles couldn’t string together any long or meaningful runs to close out their ever-widening deficit to the Knights.
It just isn’t in Alnajjar’s character to give up, so she never did. She kept playing hard and it got her into a bit of foul trouble. She managed to avoid fouling out in her last home game but played as hard in the last five minutes of the fourth quarter as she did in the first four minutes of the first. Relentless hustle from this woman who is called “a pillar of the program,” and “an example for working hard.” She lifted the rest of her team and kept their spirits up despite the lopsided score. They kept fighting though they knew they couldn’t catch up to the Knights. The last bucket went to the Eagles and without much surprise the loudest cheer came from Alnajjar. Her energy and her support and her work ethic will be missed as she graduates and moves on to the next chapter of her life.
The Eagles next game is February 13th against Redeemer College where they will try to avoid another loss on their 7-16 record.