By Nicholas Bueno
What a difference a year makes.
A year removed from going winless in MCAC play, the Providence Pilots have cemented themselves as a legitimate contender going 12-2 this season.
The Pilots are one game back of the league-leading CMU Blazers (13-1) and even took down the top seed in a 64-61 nail biter two weeks ago.
Providence is looking to break a five-year final drought with their last championship appearance occurring back in 2014 where they lost to the Red River College Rebels.
Their team dominance is evident in the stats. They lead the league in field goal percentage (37.1%), free-throw percentage (62.5%), bench scoring (136 total points), and second-chance points (106 total).
The Pilots are led by fourth-year point guard, and Selkirk, MB native, Taylor Goodbrandson, who leads the team in minutes (31 minutes per game) and assists (3.5 per game), while chipping in 11.7 points per game and 5.7 rebounds per game.
Also leading the Pilots are second-year guard, Katelin Thiessen, who contributes 10.5 points a game and 5.3 rebounds per game, and fourth-year forward from Winnipeg, Alison Zajac, who adds 9.5 points per game and 8.2 rebounds a night.
A win Friday night would be a huge confidence boost not only for the current team but the women’s basketball program moving forward.
Contrastingly, the RRC Rebels run the risk of not making the MCAC finals for the first time in over seven years. Before losing the 2017-18 championship against the CMU Blazers, the Rebels won six consecutive titles.
They enter the semifinal this year at 5-9, good for sixth place in the NIAC standings. During the regular season, Red River posted a combined 0-4 record against both competing MCAC teams, CMU and Providence.
The Rebels are led by first-year guard Czyelle Mas, who averages 15.1 points per game, 4.5 rebounds per game, 1.4 assists per game and 2.8 steals per game.
Red River also features forward Kaelei Daniels, who boasts averages of 10.8 points per game, 7.4 rebounds per game on 33% shooting from the field and guard Cayla Sagun who averages 6 points per game and 3.5 rebounds per game.
The semifinal between the Rebels and the Pilots takes place at CMU’s Loewen Athletic Centre on Friday, February 8 at 6 PM.
It’s fair to imagine coach Joe Di Curzio sleeps a little better after the end to last season.
After losing four straight finals to the Red River College Rebels, DiCurzio finally got the CMU Blazers over the hump with a big-time win last year to give the women’s program their first ever MCAC championship.
The dominant frontcourt was key during their title run, and yet, they had two spots to fill with both Vanessa Millions and Caitlin Fennell both leaving the team.
DiCurzio wasted no time adapting by gearing the Blazers offense to a more guard-oriented attack which has led them a conference-leading 13-1 record on the season.
The Blazers, in the hunt for back-to-back titles, are led by three returning players including 2018 Finals MVP Jessica Marx-Houndle, plus second-years Shirliz Apiyo and Julia Schatkowsky.
Apiyo is a dynamic scorer, bringing 14 points per game on 41% shooting from the field, while Marx-Houndle is a classic all-around threat. She averages seven points per game, 5.9 rebounds per game and leads the Blazers with three assists per game. Schatkowsky is one of the most efficient players in the league, averaging 18 points per contest on 56% shooting from the floor while also shooting 83% from the free-throw line.
The top-ranked Blazers will take on the winner of the Rebels and Pilots semifinal matchup the following day, on Saturday, February 9 at 2 PM.