Top-ranked Gee-Gees welcome reigning finalist Marauders for Critelli Cup clash of division champs

Top-ranked Gee-Gees welcome reigning finalist Marauders for Critelli Cup clash of division champs

Ottawa – One team is making their return to the provincial finale for a second straight season, while the other is hoping that their top-ranked regular season will translate into their first title since 2011-12. But whether they took to the championship stage a year ago or seven years ago, the 2018-19 edition of the McMaster Marauders and Ottawa Gee-Gees sees two of the nation’s best going toe-to-toe at Montpetit Hall with a coveted Critelli Cup on the line.

The ending wasn’t quite what the Marauders were hoping for a year ago when they were knocking on the door of a championship, and after winning three titles in a six-year span from 2002 to 2008, the team has been unable to recapture that glory since. Now, a largely similar, talent-laden roster will have the opportunity to reach for redemption against yet another squad from the nation’s capital, and this time, the nation’s No 3 squad will hope to kick that door right in for their first banner in over a decade.

While there are still tasks to be checked off on the Marauders’ 2018-19 to-do list, they were able to make some significant strides already when they twice toppled the reigning champions en route to the final heavyweight tilt against Ottawa, with the latest victory coming in their semifinal clash.

To get past the Carleton Ravens and secure their date with the Gee-Gees, the maroon machine turned to veterans like Linnaea Harper (Newmarket, Ont.) and Hilary Hanaka (Hamilton, Ont.), among others. The former picked up a team-high 16 points along with Sarah Gates (Newmarket, Ont.) – the conference’s second-leading scorer from the regular season – while the latter overcame a tough shooting night to showcase her entire skillset, from finding her teammates to crashing the boards to stepping up on defence. And it is that kind of veteran presence and experience, not to mention knowledge of what it takes to win on the OUA’s biggest stage, that could prove to be a difference-maker when play tips off against Ottawa.

The Gee-Gees, meanwhile, slayed a powerhouse of their own en route to their spot in the final match, as they were able to earn victory over the reigning two-time Player of the Year, Leashja Grant, and the Lakehead Thunderwolves. After cruising through their quarterfinal tilt, much like they did throughout a regular season that only included two trips to the loss column, the Garnet and Grey continued their dominance in the opening half of their final four tilt. The team galloped out to a 22-point lead at the break, and while their opposition chipped away in the second half, a near triple-double from Brooklynn McAlear-Fanus (Ottawa, Ont.; 22 PTS, 10 AST, 7 REB) and a double-double of 14 points and 10 rebounds from Sarah Besselink (Kingston, Ont.) helped Ottawa put their foot down when all was said and done to stake their claim as championship hosts. But what can the hosts expect from their final visitors of the year?

Led by a trio of all-stars, each of whom resides in the conference’s list of top-10 point-producers, Mac unleashed a top-ranked offence against the opposition this season (79.3 PPG). With just under 30 made field goals per game, shooting a shade below 40% as a group, the Marauders aren’t shy when it comes to putting up shots, especially when they come from behind the arc. McMaster connects on eight long-balls per contest (2nd in OUA) on over 30% shooting from beyond the arc, and whether they are setting up for the three ball or pouring it on in the paint, the team is also the best in the business at sharing the rock (18.5 APG).

If that’s not enough, they are also a tough matchup on the defensive end. Their activity in disrupting the opposition has led to top-three marks in both steals (12.1) and blocks (4.1) per contest, while also limiting teams to just 33.3% shooting from the field and 59.0 points against – both good enough for fourth in the OUA. But on the Critelli Cup stage, who better to put that defensive prowess to the test than the nation’s No. 1 squad – a status they earned in the heat of their playoff push for the first time in program history.

Ottawa enters as the best shooting team in the province – both within and beyond the arc – and have parlayed that proficiency into the OUA’s second-ranked offence (77.4 PPG). Like their championship combatants, however, they are also elite on the other end of the floor, with top-two totals in opponents’ field goal percentage (32.3%) and points per game allowed (56.1). They earn the slight edge in both rebounds and blocks, while picking up a touch fewer passes per game, but when it boils down to it, the numbers suggest that these teams will be going back-and-forth all game long.

At the forefront of the Gee-Gees attack is a loaded starting lineup that matched McMaster’s three all-stars with a trio of recipients of their own. Running the point is the conference’s leading passer and first-team all-star, McAlear-Fanus, who controlled the high-powered offence with her 4.9 assists per game. Among those on the receiving end of these pristine passes were Brigitte Lefebvre-Okankwu (Gatineau, Que.), Amélie Hachey (Drummondville, Que.), and Besselink, who were the team’s top three scorers on the year.

This sensational starting unit was a difference-maker in the teams’ one and only meeting during the year, with each of the five pouring in at least six points. The group was led by Angela Riberach (Toronto, Ont.), who patrolled the paint with a team high 17 points and 12 rebounds, while Hachey and Lefebvre-Okankwu combined for another 25 for the Gee-Gees. Olivia Wilson (Lion’s Head, Ont.) paced the pack for Mac with 16 points, and Gates picked up a 15-point, 10-rebound double-double, but it wasn’t enough for the Hamilton squad. Ottawa got out of the gates quick with a 10-point cushion at the half, and after extending the lead by another six points heading into the final frame, the team was able to collect a big 74-60 win before the break.

It was a victory-filled second half of the season for both sides since that contest and each is riding a wave of momentum into the latest Critelli Cup clash, so only time will tell if Ottawa can turn in a repeat performance against Mac or if the West Division champs can deliver a retaliatory response to their East Division counterparts. Each side will have the luxury of continuing their seasons beyond the OUA finale, with their semifinal wins securing their spots in the U SPORTS Final 8, but entering the national tournament with a Critelli Cup title under their belts is something that both the McMaster Marauders and Ottawa Gee-Gees will hope to make a reality once that final buzzer sounds this weekend.