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McGill Martlets win women's national university basketball title

The University of Victoria began in 1903 as Victoria College, an affiliate of McGill University.
McGill Martlets celebrate after winning the Canadian university women's basketball championship
McGill Martlets celebrate after winning the Canadian university women's basketball championship with a 66-55 win against Laval on Sunday.

The University of Victoria began in 1903 as Victoria College, an affiliate of McGill University. So it was perhaps only fitting the parent school returned and was triumphant Sunday at the Victoria campus

The UVic Vikes have won nine Canadian university women’s basketball championships. The McGill Martlets won their first in school history on Sunday afternoon by defeating Laval Rouge et Or 66-55 in the all-Quebec 2017 U Sports national championship game on Ken and Kathy Shields Court in CARSA Gym.

National team coach Lisa Thomaidis, who guided Canada to the quarter-finals of the Rio Olympics last summer, was taking it all in from the CARSA stands after her defending U Sports champion Saskatchewan Huskies were eliminated earlier in the weekend. The 2017 U Sports tournament MVP Alex Kiss-Rusk, with 15 points and 20 rebounds in the championship game, gave Thomaidis plenty to think about in terms of a possible national camp invite as the fourth-year, six-foot-four post led the Martlets to the national crown.

“It’s an unbelievable feeling,” said Kiss-Rusk, who began her collegiate career in the NCAA with Virginia Tech.

“It was a wide-open tournament and we went after it. People underestimated us as a team and our conference, but we came through.”

The jubilant Martlets proudly paraded around the floor Sunday with the Bronze Baby, emblematic of the national title. But already the quest has begun among the other 55 U Sports teams to wrest that trophy away from them in 2017-18.

UVic Vikes coach Dani Sinclair stood on the floor after the championship game with her prize recruit, six-foot-four Xenia Knoop from Germany via Shawnigan Lake School. Sinclair pointed to Kiss-Rusk and told Knoop, only half-jokingly: “You’ll be matched up against her in next year’s final.”

Sinclair’s Vikes were eliminated after two straight losses, so there was no host team presence for the final two days of the four-day 2017 national tournament. Yet the 2,300-seat CARSA Gym was about three-quarters full for the championship game Sunday.

“I’m proud of the way our organizing team hosted the event,” said UVic athletic director Clint Hamilton.

“When you envision a perfect hosting scenario, you dream of your team making a run to the final and winning the championship.”

Gyms and stadiums are packed in those instances. But in U Sports, it becomes a hard sell without the host team making a deep run.

“When you see the quality of the teams here, I’m proud of the way our Vikes team played its heart out,” said Hamilton.

Meanwhile, the dynastic Carleton Ravens men’s basketball team won its 13th national championship over the past 15 years with a 78-69 victory over the Ryerson Rams in the U Sports final Sunday in Halifax. It was the Ravens’ seventh consecutive championship to match the UVic Vikes’ record of seven straight national titles from the 1980s.

cdheensaw@timescolonist.com