Hawks head to CIS final eight

Don’t look now, but Laurier might just be on its way to becoming a basketball school.

Over the weekend the Golden Hawks women’s basketball team continued their dream season, beating the University of Quebec at Montreal (UQAM) and then upsetting the host Regina Cougars in the Canadian Interuniversity Sport (CIS) West regional final. This vaults the Hawks to the CIS final eight this weekend in Windsor, which is the furthest they have gone in team history.

This comes just a week after Laurier’s men’s team turned some heads by leading the undefeated Carleton, who won the national championship this past weekend, for three quarters in their provincial semifinal.

“It’s huge for the program,” said Laurier head coach Paul Falco. “I think we’ve put ourselves on the map with the top teams in the country and the excitement around what we’ve done is great. I’m extremely happy for the girls to get this experience.”

The Hawks’ first game of regional finals weekend came Friday versus UQAM, where the purple and gold came away with a 61-51 win. Although the Quebec-based team was unfamiliar to the Hawks, Falco compared them to a team Laurier is quite familiar with to generate the perfect gameplan.

“They’re really similar to Brock in our division, in that they rely on their three-point shooting, so that was our focus defensively,” said Falco. “And we only gave up two three-pointers all game. To limit a team that usually averages in the 70s to 51 points was a heck of a defensive effort and a big reason why we won.”

Laurier’s match-up with Regina in the regional final was much more difficult, both in terms of the quality of their opponent, and the circumstances.

The host cougars went 19-5 in the regular season, four more wins than the Hawks, but more importantly had only lost one game in their home gym all year.

“The gym that was packed with a couple thousand people and I think about six were cheering for us,” said Laurier fifth-year Mal Kohlmeier. “But I think we actually thrived off that. It really got us excited and pumped up to play.”

The hostile environment proved to be no detriment to the Hawks as they came away with an 82-67 win vaulting them into the CIS final eight. The 82 points mark the second-highest point total for Laurier all season, and it came on a night when Regina held three-time all-star Renata Adamczyk to just three points.

“That was their gameplan. They thought that if they could stop Renata they could stop our team,” said Falco.

“But that left things open for our shooters up top and I think Mallory [Kohlmeier], Christa [Mancino] and Kim [Yeldon] really took advantage of that.”

Those outside shooters proved to be deadly to the Cougars as Kohlmeier put up 25 points, while Mancino had 21 and Yeldon had 14 coming off the bench.

“That’s what teammates are for,” said Kohlmeier.

“That’s what I think is so strong for us, we have so many players that can step up on any given night and in that game we had some good looks and we knocked down our shots.”

The Hawks will now look to keep this magical season going versus the nation’s top teams. Going in as the number seven seed, Laurier will be in tough in their CIS quarterfinal this Friday as they take on the number-two ranked Saskatchewan Huskies, a team that has only lost twice all year.

While the Canada West champion Huskies present an obvious challenge, the Hawks have gained experience playing with and beating teams ranked higher than them this post-season. Most notably their upset of number-three nationally ranked Western Mustangs in the Ontario University Athletics (OUA) West semifinal.

“Saskatchewan is definitely a tough match-up. They’re a very good team and they’re a very veteran team,” said Falco. “But we’ve played a lot of top teams these past few weeks and we’ll be ready come Friday.”

In addition, Falco says the Hawks will have a pseudo home-court advantage when they play the Huskies on Friday.

“We’re playing in our home away from home,” he said. “Windsor’s is a gym that we’ve played and practiced in more than any other gym other than our own, so we should be comfortable.”

Tip-off for the Laurier-Saskatchewan CIS quarterfinal is 3:00 on Friday.

Should Laurier knock off the Huskies, they would play on Saturday night in the national semifinals, while if they lose, they will be relegated to the consolation round, which begins on Saturday afternoon.