Stingers Women’s Basketball Has Climbed Back to the Top
After a Year At the Bottom of the Standings the Team Bounced Back Hard
On Saturday Feb. 24, 2018, the Concordia Stingers women’s basketball team lost 62-61 to the Laval Rouge et Or.
It was the end of their worst season in recent memory, winning just four games. It was also the first time they found themselves at the bottom of the RSEQ standings since the 2009-2010 season. Any team that comes off a 4-12 record is going to have to undertake a massive rebuild.
Third year shooting guard Caroline Task explained the team needed to gel more as a unit to progress further. The players’ mindset both on and off the court had to change. She added it was not for lack of talent that they had found themselves in the disappointing position—but changes were very much in need.
While recruitment remains the main priority for any team in the offseason, head coach Tenicha Gittens was also heavily focused on the returning players’ mentality. With a rookie class that occupies half the team’s roster, getting everyone on the same page is one of the biggest factors in a turnaround season that has the Stingers in second place in the RSEQ as well as being consistently ranked as one of the top 10, or even top five, teams in the country.
“Developing this culture where everyone is invested in the team’s success is a really big part of our success this season,” said Gittens. “Getting the rookies we brought in on board with what we’ve got going on just means the whole squad is so much more confident.”
During the offseason, there were several roles to fill, and bringing players on from schools with a winning history was a key aspect of Gittens’ plan for the future of the program. Not only did that bring a breath of fresh, competitive air to the locker room, it also brought a hunger to win.
“With the group of girls we have now, it’s almost like the [NBA’s Golden State] Warriors, where if you beat us, we’ll study tape and you won’t be able to beat us like that again,” said Gittens. “Our mental strength is definitely one of our greatest assets this year and it’s definitely one of the main reasons we’re playing so well.”
The veteran core of the team is also contributing in a great way to both the team’s success and to incorporating the rookie class into the winning culture that Gittens is so adamant in implementing.
At 6’1”, second-year centre Ladonna Lamonth has been a defensive staple this season, averaging just under 10 rebounds per game. She’s also had a crucial role in the locker room, helping a sizeable rookie class adjust to university basketball.
“Everyone likes being around the team, even outside of basketball and that’s really important,” said Lamonth. “We’re all buying into coach’s tactics and ideas and that’s really been a big part of our success this year.”
While Gittens has done her best to bring players from winning teams into the Stingers organization, the individual mentality of players was the defining factor for whether or not they would fit into her vision for the program.
“Every single player that we have on this team is here because they have the mental toughness to last a whole season,” said Gittens. “Some players that come from winning programs and may not be used to being in a slump are just what we need at times. They’re players that refuse to be content with a losing record. You can’t coach a winning mentality which is something I was looking for in the offseason.”
Players from CEGEPs with a history of basketball success have been a significant factor in the Stingers’ run of form this season. Gittens has previously stated that getting them on board with their culture of winning and the mindset needed to bring home a championship was one of the most important steps to success as the season grew longer.
“A lot of the players that were brought in this year are used to having success and bringing that mentality with them onto the next level […] is a massive asset for them because they all come into the program really hungry to win,” said Lamonth.
“Every girl in the dressing room knows what it takes to win and what their job is and it’s just about getting out of a slump because we know that we’re a good enough team to win these games. It’s about putting in the final execution.” — Caroline Task
“Coach has really been placing a big emphasis on having the right mentality from the start this year,” she added, “and their attitude towards winning has helped them work with the team and get along with everyone a lot easier.”
While the entirety of the regular season is a long and gruelling effort, the playoffs are where championship teams are made and broken. Both the mental and physical capacity of each and every member of the squad is put to the test, and their cohesiveness as a unit can be the difference between an early exit and a deep run in the postseason.
As one of the most experienced players on the squad, Task has been a two-way force to be reckoned with. She’s also used her experience to help introduce some of the younger players to the ups and downs of the sport.
While all members of this year’s rookie class are accustomed to the pressures of high level play, everything surrounding the team and the life of a student athlete at the university level is amplified, which is why their integration in the squad in all aspects is so crucial.
“The confidence we’ve got in the room is almost like it’s contagious. Everyone has each other’s backs,” said Task. “If we ever do hit a slump like we just did then we all know that we can bounce back and get to playing the way we normally do.”
During a late season three game losing streak, it was a chance to see how some of the players coming from winning basketball programs would take dealing with a slumping team. Task maintained that the players, while technically rookies, have been competing long enough to act just as professional as some of the more veteran players.
“At the end of the day, this is a group of girls that has been playing at a high level for a long time, regardless of how long they’ve been at Concordia,” said Task. “Every girl in the dressing room knows what it takes to win and what they job is.”
That mentality helped them win a massive game against UQAM, which halted their losing streak and kept them in second place in the RSEQ, with McGill hot on the Stingers’ trail in the standings. Squad management and rotating the players in an effective way is the difference between teams who win championships and those that fizzle out early.
“The home stretch is always tough and that’s why every chance you get to give the players’ bodies a bit of a break, you give it to them,” said Gittens. “Their brains are always working and we’re still going be working, but their bodies need time to recharge.”
That is a policy that may not have flown in the old Stingers locker room, but with a team that’s on board with a winning mentality and a group of rookies as hungry as any other player in the league, there’s no telling how far this turnaround season will go.