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Vass, STU in search of elusive CCAA title

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 Vass, STU in search of elusive CCAA title

Dec. 3, 2014 – Kelly Vass has been to the CCAA Women’s Basketball National Championship in each of her first three seasons with St. Thomas University.

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The Tommies have a bronze medal, fourth-place finish and silver medal to show for their recent appearances on the national stage.

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But for the graduating Vass, this is her last shot at gold. And last year’s 59-54 defeat at the hands of the Nomades de Montmorency in the gold medal game is still fresh in her memory.

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“It has helped motivate us as a team,” said Vass, the STU captain for the past two seasons. “It was such a close game and to fall short in the last few minutes was tough.”

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The road to Vancouver Island University in Nanaimo, BC is certainly a long one. But the 2015 CCAA Women’s Basketball National Championship is where Vass wants to play her final varsity basketball game.

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The Tommies are off to a perfect 6-0 start.

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“We are gunning for gold and we are capable to get there,” said Vass. “We know we can get there.”

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But first, there’s plenty of work to be done in the ACAA and STU coach Fred Connors won’t let his team look too far ahead.

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“We have a core group that has been focused on Nationals as a goal for four years now, but we also know we have a young group that is just finding their way through their first year in the program and a very close and competitive league in the ACAA this year,” said Connors, the CCAA Coach of the Year in 2013.

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“So we need to stay focused on the challenge we have at hand here first, or we could easily find ourselves on the outside looking in.”

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Vass, an All-Canadian last season, is determined to not let that happen. She is second in the ACAA with an average of 18.3 points per game. She leads the Tommies in scoring, rebounding and assists and does so within the team concept, according to Connors.

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“Kelly has been an impact player from the day she arrived,” said Connors, who is in his 12th year as Tommies head coach. “She has a very dynamic game and adds a level of competitiveness that’s fun to watch.”

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This week, the final women’s basketball rankings of the calendar year were released. To no one’s surprise, Montmorency and St. Thomas are 1-2, respectively.

Women’s Basketball Rankings

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Connors takes pride in the fact that St. Thomas has been ranked so high all season.

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“That is certainly a point of pride for our program and a sign that the league has grown and that the ACAA is going to send tough teams to Nationals,” said Connors. “But the goal is not to be ranked high, it’s to finish high, and there is only one time of year that you can do that and that is in March.”

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Meanwhile, Connors is well aware of the start Montmorency is off to. And the STU bench boss has nothing but respect for the program the Nomades have put together.

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“I have a great amount of respect for all the programs that we see at Nationals, as it takes a massive amount of effort to just get out of your own conference and be able to participate at the national tournament,” he said.

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Montmorency, the two-time defending CCAA champions from the RSEQ, is also 6-0. The Nomades have two more games this weekend before the holiday break – Friday at Trois-Rivières and Sunday at Nouvelles-Frontières.

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But there have been plenty of changes at Montmorency this season. They are without the 2014 CCAA Player of the Year, Marika Guerin, who has moved on to McGill University. The Nomades also have a new coach in Martin Fortier.

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Yet, there they are atop the RSEQ standings, having outscored their opponents 443-282 through six games.

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“Our players work really hard in the gym every day of the season,” said Fortier. “It’s our mission to get back to Nationals.”

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This season, Julie Brosseau (14.2) and Mael Gilles (12.5) are leading the Nomades in points per game and Fortier also credits point guard Gladys Hakizimana, who has stepped into a leadership role.

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Hakizimana leads the Nomades with an average of 26.7 minutes played per game. “Gladys has a different style than Marika but she is very useful and she leads our offence,” said Fortier.

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Indeed, the Nomades and Tommies appear to be on a collision course once again. Only time will tell.

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While Montmorency is looking for career title No. 8 – and their fourth in five seasons, the Tommies are looking for their first ever CCAA title in women’s basketball. In fact, no ACAA team has ever won a CCAA national championship in men’s or women’s basketball.

Women’s Basketball History Page

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The Tommies would love to be the first.

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“We have been close and feel we are doing the right things to get back,” said Connors. “I know the school would love to see us take the final step, but I also know they are very excited for us that we have represented the school so well on many levels over the past four years.”

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And before Vass moves on, she’d like to deliver a national championship to her institution.

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“We are just a small school in New Brunswick,” said Vass. “It would mean so much to bring a national title home to STU.”

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The CCAA is a national sport organization enriching the academic experiences of student-athletes through intercollegiate sport.

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