New Brunswick

UNB hosts CIS women's basketball championship

The top university women’s basketball teams in the country will begin playing for a national championship in Fredericton on Thursday.

Top eight women's basketball teams in Canada to battle it out for the championship in Fredericton

Rachel Cleary is a fifth-year player with UNB. (Philip Drost/CBC News)

The top university women's basketball teams in the country will begin playing for a national championship in Fredericton on Thursday.

The University of New Brunswick is hosting the Canadian Interuniversity Sport championship for women's basketball.  

UNB Varsity Reds coach Jeff Speedy helps his team prepare to play the top team in the country. (Philip Drost/CBC News)
UNB gets an automatic spot in the tournament as its host, but got the lowest seed in the tournament. UNB will play the top-ranked McGill Martlets in the first round at 6 p.m. Thursday.

Rachel Cleary of the Varsity Reds remembers going to watch the national championship when she was younger. Now the fifth-year player is getting her chance at a championship.

"It's the top eight teams in the country. It's what every single team is playing for. We all play all season with the goal of wanting to be here," said Cleary.

The Varsity Reds have a tough challenge in the first round, but history is on their side. In 2006 UNB hosted the same tournament and beat the top-ranked Saskatchewan Huskies in the first round.

Focus on playing well

Varsity Reds coach Jeff Speedy said his players are focused on playing their best.

"My players don't really like to hear this but winning isn't the end result. Playing well is the most important thing," said Speedy.

Saskatchewan Huskies coach Lisa Thomaidis and her team are ranked second in the country going into the tournament. (Philip Drost/CBC News)
"We're trying not to focus on winning Thursday night. We're trying to focus on playing really well Thursday night and putting some pressure on the number one seed in the tournament, and hopefully having the opportunity to pull the game out in the fourth quarter."

The tournament will feature some of the top players in the country, along with some of the best coaches.

Lisa Thomaidis coaches the Saskatchewan Huskies, but during the summer, she coaches the women's national team. She helped lead the team to a gold medal at the Pan Am Games, and will have a shot at another gold medal at the Olympics in Rio in August.

It's very high-calibre basketball.- Lisa Thomaidis, Saskatchewan Huskies coach

But right now she is focused on helping her Huskies win a CIS championship.

"It's very high-calibre basketball. The teams that are here are excellent. So it's going to be the best players we have in our country right now competing," said Thomaidis.

Competition begins in at 1 p.m. Thursday and the champions will be crowned on Sunday at 1 p.m.

Exposure for UNB

UNB was awarded the tournament two years ago after bidding for it as part of larger effort to bring more championship events to UNB.

"It's something we got into in the early 2000s," said athletic director John Richard. "Men's hockey was the first one we did and since then we've done quite a few."

Richard said hosting national events gets the university more exposure, which can potentially bring new students and athletes.

Richard said the biggest challenge will be getting people to the games. He isn't worried about the games involving UNB, but hopes the rest are well-attended as well.

"We obviously want bums in seats, especially for those nationally televised games," said Richard. "We feel we draw well during the regular season for basketball, so we hope that continues regardless of who's playing out there … but that's one of the major challenges here, just driving people to the building."​

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Philip Drost is a reporter with CBC New Brunswick.

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