#1 Canadian Mennonite University Blazers vs #2 Red River College Rebels
On Championship Sunday, no other women’s teams belonged more than the Blazers and Rebels as the 1 and 2 seeds in the women’s division met up for the final after two decisive semi-final wins.
After two blocks by RRC’s Lindsay Young (15 pts, 11 reb, 4 bs) in CMU’s opening possession, the Rebels opened the scoring with a pair of free throws by Jodene Kowalchuk (11 pts, 5 st). The Blazers dominated the start of their games for much of this season, but they seemed a little flustered by the Rebels’ early blocks and takeaways. But after a steal and a fast break bucket by All-Conference guard Cassie Wiebe (11 pts, 4 ast) and a deep 2 points by Rhianna Nelson (14 pts, 5 stl), the Blazers got into a rhythm.
The Rebels’ Young played physical in the opening quarter and it showed. Not only was she a huge factor in the defensive end but her offensive rebounding and overall ballhawking involved her in most of her team’s play. When Kowalchuk hit a deep 3 to put the Rebels within 1 of CMU, it became clear that this game wouldn’t be like most of the others the Blazers played during their 11-1 season. After the first frame the Blazers led by only 2, 13-11.
The second quarter was a bit ragged at times with a lot of loose balls and broken full court plays. Despite CMU’s 5’2″ guard Mobina Mosallat (10 pts, 10 rebs) hitting two 3 pointers and grabbing 8 rebounds in the first half, the Rebels outscored the Blazers 20-12 in the second quarter to head into halftime winning 31-25.
In the beginning of the second half, RRC’s Lacy Finnbogason (4 pts, 7 reb, 3 st) made her presence felt early by getting in the face of Wiebe and the rest of CMU’s perimeter players, making it hard for the Blazers to advance the ball. But after Finnbogason was subbed out, the Blazers went on a run eventually cutting RRC’s lead to 39-36 before Kowalchuk hit a big 3, effectively tempering CMU’s comeback.
It was apparent by late in the fourth quarter that both teams had seen enough of each other for one season. The game was physical from the tip but some extra disdain began to show and CMU began to get into foul trouble. Raven Boulanger, who finished with 15 points, 8 rebounds and 3 steals, often drew the ire of the Blazers and eventually CMU’s Wiebe and Kristiann Leighton both fouled out with only a few minutes left in the game. The Blazers were still down by only single digits, but in the end both teams scored 17 points apiece in the 4th quarter and the Rebels upset the #1 Blazers 64-55 for the 2016 – and their school’s fifth-straight – MCAC Championship.
“It was very intense” says Young, who was honoured as the tournament’s Most Valuable Player, leading all scoring in the final with 15 points, 11 rebounds, 4 blocks and 2 steals.
“It was very physical but I thought the referees did a very good job at keeping it under control but also letting us play. And I think the outcome was what it was.”
“I was just really excited to play today. I guess that’s what’s really nice about coming in as the lower seed, it was less pressure”.
When asked about this being Red River’s fifth-straight victory, Young recognizes what such a streak means to the school.
“Definitely, there’s a strong alumni presence at this school. We scrimmage against them all the time and they’re all fantastic players…a couple days before our finals began, they all came and practiced with us which was awesome because it reminds us of what we’re playing for and who we’re playing for. So yeah, I definitely think there’s some pressure to not break that streak” she laughed.
Men’s Final#3 Canadian Mennonite University Blazers vs #4 Red River College Rebels
The Men’s Final featured two teams that upset their semi-final games, #3 Canadian Mennonite University vs #4 Red River College.
CMU’s Jon Hayter (33 pts, 12 reb) opened the game’s scoring with a drive and pull up from 10 feet and while both teams felt one another out in the opening minutes, Hayter hit another three before RRC’s Gliff Macalua (26 pts, 5 st) began to also heat up.
Besides Hayter and Macalua’s individual efforts, buckets didn’t come easy early in the first. Much of the offence came from outside looks and the Rebels started most of their offence from above the free throw line, away from CMU’s 6’8″ Jacob Penner (12 pts, 10 reb) who struggled on the offensive end, turning the ball over with a couple travel calls close to the hoop. He sat early with foul trouble and it took him a while to get going. After the first frame the Rebels lead was 24-18.
Hayter kept the hot hand into the second quarter when he stepped up and nailed a couple deep threes before the defence could set up. Hayter and Macalua guarded each other for a time which made for an extremely entertaining matchup as both were shooting the ball well. At 6’2″, Macalua had a slight size advantage over the 6′ Hayter but Hayter plays above the rim. Macalua is very crafty positionally, and often gains a step on his defenders with a crossover or seal. They went back and forth several times, at one point trading three pointers.
Right before halftime, the Rebels looked to have a steal and a fast break which would have given them an 8 point lead going into the break but CMU stole the intended pass and dished it to a streaking Jordan Nefueld (3 pts, 3 reb) who got a layup and drew a foul, sending him to hit a free throw and the Blazers into the break down just 36-33.
The third was the deciding quarter as the Rebels pulled away and outscored CMU 25-13. Both teams’ ball distribution was even as no one player seemed to dominate the floor but Red River’s Taylor Brown (15 pts, 6 reb), Ivan Griffiths (10 pts, 5 reb) and Ezekiel Lerner (14 pts, 14 reb) had more of a scoring touch than the Blazers could muster. The largest lead came when RRC was leading 79-60, but the Blazers didn’t quit. However, the Rebels scored 30 points to CMU’s 11 off of turnovers alone, a back breaking stat for a championship game. Eventually the Blazers ran out of time and the Red River College Rebels defended their title, winning their eighth MCAC Championship in a row with a 87-74 win.
Macalua led all scorers with 26 points and Taylor Brown was named the Tournament’s Most Valuable Player.