Two years is a short amount of time to usher in change, let alone make your mark on history. MacEwan University’s Griffins women’s basketball team just punched a ticket into the next round of CIS playoffs after sweeping the Victoria Vikes on the weekend. The Griffins took the first two games of the series, eliminating the Vikes.
During both games, the Griffins started out slowly and cautiously before settling in and showing their dominant playing style and experience. Dave Oldham, the head coach of the Griffins, credited the sluggish starts to typical playoff behaviour. The teams usually like to feel each other out before getting into their groove.
Perhaps “the groove” for both these teams was found in their immense level of physicality.
“[These are] two teams literally fighting for their basketball lives for this season, and they’re going to [go] after it,” Oldham said.
Both the teams had come from well-respected athletic programs in the Canada West division. The Griffins came into the weekend series as the underdogs, after having lost their only previous matchup with the Vikes in November.
However, it was in this series that the Griffins pulled through, winning by nine points in the first matchup and by 15 in the second game. The teams were evenly matched, but in the end, it was the Griffins who pulled away with the victory.
“We talked together in the pregame and said, ‘It is going to come down to the fourth quarter,’” said Oldham. “And we were able to pull away, and it speaks to the resiliency and leadership in the room.”
“It’s incredible for our whole team and our coaching staff and for everyone here,” said Megan Wood, a Griffins forward. “It’s huge for our program, and I couldn’t be happier.”
Following the Griffins win on Saturday, there was an overwhelming sense of team and culture — that none of the team’s success or individual achievements could have been possible if not for everyone around them.
The Griffins have officially set a record as the first team to make it this far in the playoffs in only their second year in CIS. For a university that is still in the process of transitioning into CIS, it is milestones such as this one that develop the popularity and reputation for programs.
“It had some historical [relevance], and to be a part of that is a privilege for me,” said Oldham. “A lot of work was done to get this program to where it is now, and the credit is to [former coach] Rob Poole and those girls.”
After celebrating their current victory, the Griffins’ next task is to set their sights on Saskatchewan, where they will be playing for a spot in the final four — and, hopefully, a national title.
The victory is bittersweet, however, as many of the team’s seniors will be moving on after the 2015-2016 season. This group includes power forward Megan Wood, who has been no stranger to the spotlight throughout the year. She credits much of her success to her teammates.“For some of us, it’s the last time we ever get to play on this court,” Wood said. “It was hard, and it was exciting.”
With a large number of the women’s team aging out of their eligibility, the Griffins are expected to have a fresh-faced roster for 2016-2017.
“This week’s been a lot about not taking things for granted,” said Wood. “And I love my team. I love the coaching staff. I love everything about MacEwan.”
The experience and skill in the Griffins line-up have allowed them to be successful. Kendall Lydon, an experienced point guard, is boasted as seeing the court better than anyone and having a basketball IQ to match. Kelly Fagan stands up for the team enormously on the defensive side, creating both blocks and rebounds. Paige Knull acts as the full-court defender, guarding the best opposing players. Kelly O’Hallahan is an agile and unstoppable guard. Kayla Ivicak is an adept shooter and defender on the starting line-up.
As these precious senior players depart, they leave behind a history and a legacy of winning against all odds.
Photo by Len Joudrey.