MONTREAL — The outlook for the 93rd season of women’s basketball at McGill University appears to be a bright one as the team returns seven veterans from the squad that went 21-5 against CIS opponents last year, including a 13-3 record atop the RSEQ standings en route to capturing their third straight conference championship. The Martlets qualified for the CIS Final Eight for the fourth consecutive year, where they placed fifth with a 2-1 record.
The McGill women, who enter the season ranked No.4 in the nation after going 4-1 in preseason play against CIS opponents, begin their Quebec league schedule with a home game against Bishop’s, Nov. 8, at Love Competition Hall. Tip-off is 6 p.m., followed by the men’s opener at 8 p.m.
Conference coach of the year Ryan Thorne returns for his 12th season behind the bench and has guided the Martlets to four consecutive first-place finishes, posting an impressive 50-14 record in league play over that four-year span. His 2014-15 roster features five seniors, two juniors, three sophomores and a pair of freshmen.
Key starters lost to graduation include Francoise Charest, a four-time all-star at point-guard and Helene Bibeau, a six-foot forward who earned all-conference honours last season. Other veterans lost include guards Marie-Pier Bastrash and Roya Assadi, along with forwards Kizzy Clarke and Valerie L’Ecuyer.
Leading the front-court this season is All-Canadian Mariam Sylla, a 5-foot-11 junior from Guinea, who was named CIS rookie of the year in her freshman campaign and followed that with conference player-of-the-year honours as a sophomore, when she ranked second in the league scoring race with an average of 13.1 points per game. A pharmacology major who was named among the 2014 CIS Top Eight Academic All-Canadians, she led the league in rebounding (9.4 per game), was third in free-throw shooting (78.3%), fourth in field-goal shooting (44.4%) and fifth in both steals (31) and blocked shots (10).
Jennifer Silver, a 5-foot-11 sophomore forward from Montreal, returns healthy after missing the Nationals last year with a freak leg injury in practice just before heading to the CIS tourney. She was named RSEQ rookie of the year and merited a berth on the CIS all-rookie team. Silver ranked 11th among league leaders with 7.9 points per game, tied with Sylla for fourth in field-goal shooting (44.4) and was also fourth in blocked shots with 11 in 16 games.
Seniors Gabriela Hebert, a 5-foot-8 forward from Chicoutimi, Que., and Tiye Traore, a 5-foot-11 forward from Sudbury, Ont., will be challenged in the front-court by NCAA transfers Alex Kiss-Rusk of Beaconsfield, Que., and Stephanie Blais of Sherbrooke, Que.
Kiss-Rusk, a 6-foot-4 centre, is the daughter of Annette Kiss and Rick Rusk, both former all-stars at McGill in the 1980s. She was red-shirted last-year after transferring from Virginia Tech. Blais is a 6-foot-2 forward who played two seasons for the Wagner College Seahawks in Staten Island, N.Y.
The back-court is in good hands with fifth-year veteran Dianna Ros, a 5-foot-7 point-guard from Montreal and highly-touted freshman Marika Guerin of Sorel, Que., a 5-foot-4 guard out of Collège Montmorency. Also back for her second season with the team and fifth year of eligibility is Montrealer Carolann Cloutier, a 5-foot-9 guard and NCAA transfer from UMass.
Among the freshmen to watch for are guards Sara Choong, a 5-foot-6 native of Singapore who played for Columbia College in Vancouver, B.C., plus Caren-Carissa Tapia, a 5-3 Montrealer out of Vanier College and Marie-Love Michel, a 5-foot-9 winger from Collège Montmorency.
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