It certainly wasn’t easy, but for the fourth straight year the Rebels basketball teams can also be called champions in the Manitoba Colleges Athletic Conference.
In front of packed crowds at Canadian Mennonite University, the Red River College women’s basketball team took home their fourth-straight title defeating the Blazers 36-34, while the men earned their unprecedented seventh-straight MCAC Championship defeating the Pilots 65-53.
In the past, the Rebels teams have found their success with their high-powered offensive lineups overwhelming the competition – but today it was all about defence. By only allowing their opponents a combined 87 points in the two championship games, the Rebels pushed their way to a new chapter of their legacy through a physical, high-intensity brand of basketball that may not have shown up in the box score, but engraved their name on the trophy all the same.
In the first match of the day, the women’s Rebels were up against CMU’s home crowd, and a number-two seed team coming off a statement victory against the Pilots in the semifinal.
After the Blazers kicked the game off with a 7-2 run, the first half quickly turned into a defensive clinic. With tough battles for rebounds, quick turnovers, and exceptional hustle from both teams, the first twenty minutes ended with the Blazers up 19-17, and with no players registering more than five points in the half.
The style of the game stayed the same in the third quarter, but the Rebels began to turn it on to get back in the game, and keep their chances of a four-peat alive. Leading the charge for the Rebels was tournament MVP Zara Lynn Panesa, who’s smooth dribbling skills, and exceptional court-awareness gave them the edge they needed to gain control of the game.
However, the Blazers would not be let down easy, almost always finding an answer on both ends of the floor until the very end. After holding possession for almost the entire final minute, it all came down to one last run as the Blazers grabbed the ball with four-seconds left on the clock. Unfortunately for CMU, the final shot sailed off the mark, and the Rebels celebrated what has become a familiar site throughout the years.
The men’s final was a physical battle, and the 44 free throw attempts in the game told that story well. Although the Pilots showed moments of strength, the Rebels had the edge in the first half. With a 36-23 lead, the Rebels were out muscling Providence, and used their defence to stifle any groove the Pilots tried to get themselves in.
The second half was where the fireworks started, as Providence used their sense of desperation to will themselves back into the game. Led by some huge buckets by Rigueson Desorvil, and exceptional defence at the rim by Raymond Hiebert, the Pilots came alive, cutting the Rebels lead down to one. That was, until tournament MVP Evan Walker turned the game around.
Using his speed and strength, Walker forced his way to the rim or to the free throw line again and again, frustrating a Pilots defence that was desperate for some much needed turnovers. Walker’s 20 points, ten rebounds, and three assists, combined with clutch shooting from Kevin Quirante and his 15-point game appeared to be the difference. Despite a strong effort until the very end, the Rebels ability to keep the pressure on was simply too much for the Pilots to charge back from – and the Rebels were crowned champions once again.
Today’s finals marked the end of a great basketball season in the MCAC. Despite two more Rebels titles added to the list, it was a season where league-parity was evident every week. A big congratulations goes out to Red River College’s basketball program, but also to all of those who participated in and supported the MCAC season this year.