Proving they belong

Only one team in the country is able to consistently beat the Dinos women’s basketball team.

The University of Victoria Vikes were the only team to sweep the Dinos in the regular season and then beat the Dinos in two games to steal the Canada West title. Last weekend, they were the only thing left standing between the Dinos and a Canadian Interuniversity Athletic Union championship at the University of Alberta.

The third-seeded Dinos entered the eight-team tournament as the wild-card team. Some prognosticators thought they were seeded too high, in spite of their 16-4 conference record, so there was definitely something to prove.

Prior to the tournament, Dinos star forward Leighann Doan was named ciau Player of the Year and a first-team All-Canadian, to no one’s surprise. After leading the country in scoring and rebounding, and helping the Dinos into the nation’s upper echelons, Doan left few other choices for the honour.

The Dinos’ road to the final began on Thursday afternoon when they kicked off the tournament against the Université Laval Rouge et Or. The Dinos took control of the game from the opening tip-off, with three players, Doan, Cathy Payne and Jill Bekar reaching double digits in the first half. The Dinos led by eight points after 20 minutes, and the closest Laval came in the second half was within seven points. The final score was 79-67 as Calgary advanced to the second round, while Laval was destined for the consolation semi-finals.

With Doan in foul trouble, it was 6’2" post Bekar who stepped up to lead the Dinos with 20 points and 12 rebounds. Doan added 17 and Payne finished with 14.

In Friday’s semi-final, the Dinos met the University of Regina Cougars, with whom they had split the regular season series. Again, the Dinos took control early, as Payne scored all 14 of her points in the first half to give her team a 44-27 lead.

At the half the Cougars realized who they were up against and returned with a new fire, closing the Dinos’ lead to 58-54. The U of C held on, though, and finished off the Cougars 63-54.

Doan’s 19 points topped all Dinos scorers, followed by Payne’s 14 and Laura Jablonski’s 11. Doan also led the Dinos in rebounds with an astonishing 16, and assists, with 6.

After a season that saw the Dinos struggle to live up to their potential in the first few months, and then come together in the second half and rocket from eighth to second in the national rankings, they were headed into the final.

"I’m very excited," confessed Anna Bekkering. "My heart is still racing. I knew we could do it if we played as well as we can."

"This is a reward for a great season," proclaimed Dinos coach Shawnee Harle. "It’s a reward to a group of players who were the most committed and dedicated that I ever coached."

Harle brought up the hard hats that became a symbol of the team over the season.

"Being in the national final epitomizes what hard hats are all about."

As the host Pandas squared off against the Vikes to determine the Dinos’ opponent in the finals, Bekkering and rookie forward Sarah Howard were both looking forward to meeting the Vikes

"It would be nice to play Victoria," said Bekkering, "because we lost to them in overtime last week, and they were number one all weekend."

"We’ve got a score to settle with [UVic]," noted Howard. "And that way, you have the two best teams in the final, and that’s the way it should be."

Harle wasn’t ready to worry about Sunday’s game.

"I’ll think about the final tomorrow," she said. "I’m still enjoying the win we had."

After a day of rest, the Dinos returned to the U of A’s main gym for the final. Their opponents? The Vikes

A largely pro-Calgary audience watched the Dinos fall seven points behind quickly. The UVic coverage of the U of C starters and balanced offensive attack helped the Vikes take a 26-18 lead after 20 minutes, and the Dinos were unable to come back.

In a low-scoring matchup, the Vikes took the ciau title for the second time in three years, winning 57-41.

The Vikes held Doan to seven points by covering her closely in the paint and forcing her to take longer shots, which she is less comfortable with. Her 10 rebounds bore testimony to Doan’s determination, despite violent triple-teaming. Bekar and Jennifer Goldade scored eight points each, while Rena Carriere scored her first seven points of the tournament while trying to spark the Dinos in the second half.

Her personal contribution wasn’t any consolation.

"We wanted it so badly," said Carriere. "That’s what it’s all about. When we’ve come so far."

Carriere said that even when she looks back, the silver medal won’t make up for the loss in the final.

"I’ll never forget this feeling."

After the outstanding season the Dinos had, Harle didn’t want the loss to be the one thing the team remembered.

"I’m not going to let one game take away from the fact that we had a great season," she stated.

Harle didn’t hesitate to point out the problems the team had in the final game.

"We were outrebounded, we made too many unforced errors… our defence was solid, we held them to 57 points, but we struggled offensively."

Immediately following the game, Harle was looking forward to the 2000/01 season.

"I’m so excited for next year," she exclaimed. "The experience our younger players got is great. Laura Jablonski and Anna Bekkering played in a national final in their second year. After this loss tonight, we’ll be hungrier next season."

Only one of the 12 players from this year’s squad–Payne–won’t be eligible to return next season. Losing Payne’s leadership and three-point shot will be a blow to the Dinos, and players like Bekkering and Carriere will have to step up to shoulder her load.

"I think she sees that we wouldn’t have been in the national final without Cathy Payne on our team," Harle said.

As Payne picked up her luggage upon returning to Calgary, she reflected on the part she played on this year’s team, and on teams of the future.

"I got to be part of the building process," she said proudly. "I’ll savour every moment.

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