OTTAWA — Sometimes you need to take one step backwards in order to take two steps forward.
For the Algonquin Thunder women’s basketball team, the 2017-18 season was a step backwards after their run as the premier team in the OCAA since the turn of the decade. Last season, the Thunder fell out of the post-season picture, but they will be hoping that it will lead to bigger things in 2018-19.
Back in 2015-16, the Thunder went 12-2 against East Division teams in the regular season, finishing six points clear of second place to enter the post-season. Then, in 2016-17, the Seneca Sting overtook Algonquin College atop the divisional standings, but the Thunder finished in second place with a record of 12-5.
Prior to the 2015-16 season, the Thunder were a regular fixture atop the division, regularly going undefeated throughout the regular season. Algonquin earned a silver medal at the 2011 CCAA Women’s Basketball Championships, and that kicked off a four-year streak of appearances for the Thunder.
The 2017-18 season was a bit of a down year for the team, finishing below .500 with a record of 7-10. As a result, the Thunder missed the provincial championships after finishing in a tie for sixth-place in the division with the Centennial Colts.
In 2018-19, the Thunder will look to bounce back from their first sub-.500 year in quite some time and get back into contention for a spot at the provincial championships when all is said and done. Head coach Jaime McLean has a healthy mix of newcomers and returnees on the roster, all of whom will play integral roles with the team this season.
Last season, the Thunder weren’t able to sustain any positive momentum in terms of results. Their largest winning streak was two games, a feat they accomplished on just two occasions. From January 21st through to February 3rd, a span of five games, Algonquin went 4-1, putting together a pair of two-game winning streaks around a loss to the George Brown Huskies.
Algonquin opened the 2017-18 season with a road win over the Georgian Grizzlies, but a five-game losing streak followed to eliminate any positive momentum that could have come from a strong start.
Following their four wins over a five-game span, the Thunder dropped their regular season finale to the Durham Lords. They followed that up with a loss to the Fanshawe Falcons in the post-season qualifier, ending their season in the process.
Now, the attention shifts to the 2018-19 season for the Thunder. Four returnees headline the roster, along with a transfer that has experience at the U Sports level. Add in some first-year players from the high school ranks, and the Thunder have an intriguing roster that McLean thinks could turn some heads this season.
The Thunder will be without their top two scorers from last year’s team, in Katie Flansbury (17.7 ppg) and Melissa Gilligan (13.6 ppg). That leaves just one double-digit scorer from last year’s team on the 2018-19 roster, and it gives others the opportunity to take on a starring role with the team.
Ashley Proulx saw action in all 17 regular season games last season, making 12 starts along the way. She finished third on the team in scoring, averaging 10.6 points per game while shooting 39.1% from the field. Proulx is also the team’s top returning rebounder after averaging 7.1 rebounds per contest a season ago. She had nine double-digit scoring efforts across the season, and she saved her best outing for the regular season finale.
Against Durham on February 17th, Proulx went for 22 points on 7-of-11 shooting from the floor. She added nine rebounds and a blocked shot in a losing effort for the Thunder. Proulx can impact the game on both ends of the floor, and could be in for a big year with the changes in player personnel.
Due to an intensive school program that sees her do three semesters in a row in school before having the next one off, Desiree Groulx won’t be with the team until after the Christmas break, as the fall semester coincides with her one semester off from school. In 17 games last season, Groulx averaged 8.5 points and 3.2 rebounds per contest. Her return after the break will give the Thunder their full contingent of four veterans back from last year’s team.
Sydney Moorman and Sierra Peck round out the group of four returnees. Both players should see expanded roles this season, which will in turn lead to more production on both ends of the court.
In terms of newcomers, the biggest addition for the Thunder this season will be Rita Sibo, who comes to Algonquin after two years at Acadia University. Sibo will enter her third year of eligibility, and she will be looked upon to provide leadership to the newcomers and returnees alike as the 2018-19 season progresses.
The core of their recruiting class features four student-athletes from the high school ranks. McLean feels that all four players can contribute right away with the team, and a pair should see significant minutes with the team from day one. While the 2018-19 roster has yet to be posted online, the sheer excitement surrounding this year’s recruiting class bodes well for the future of the program.
For the first time in years, the Thunder enter a new season with something to prove. Last season was their first sub-.500 year in more than 10 years, and they will be looking to show that it was a mere hiccup in what has been a dominant decade for the team in OCAA play. Coach McLean is excited about this year’s team and the direction that the program is headed, and they will look to get back into contention for a spot at the OCAA Women’s Basketball Championships in 2018-19.
– T. Bennett