Greater Toronto Area track prodigy Sarah Wells adds Pan Am silver to promising career

Having competed in the semifinals of the 400-meter hurdles at the 2012 London Olympics, Sarah Wells can now boast of a Pan Am Games silver medal. Competitive throughout the race, Wells finished second to Shamier Little, while Deborah Rodriguez of Uruguay earned bronze. Of note, Wells’ time in the race at CIBC Athletics Stadium was an impressive 56.17.

Upon crossing the finish line, she proudly adorned her back with the Canadian flag, running a celebratory lap while being showered with applause. As a side note, her semifinal time on the day prior was 56.77 seconds, placing second.
Leading into the Pan Am Games, Wells’ image, jumping over an imaginary hurdle, with her blonde hair flowing in the background, were plastered on a banner outside of Toronto’s Eaton Centre. She was quickly known as the “Face of the Pan Am Games.”

Raised in Unionville, Ontario (not far from 100 meter gold medalist Andre DeGrase who grew up in neighboring Markham), she ran in front of 20 to 30 proud family members in the stands, cheering her on. Of note, she was featured at 17 years of age in the Toronto Star. In 2007, she had qualified for the Canadian team that played in Brazil’s Pan-Am Junior Finals, with a time of 1.00:37 in the 400-meter hurdles.

As one of the stars of Unionville High School’s track and field team, she advanced to the Ontario track and field finals in her senior year. In regional competition, she had earned first place in three track competitions including the 400m hurdles, 100m hurdles and the winning 4×400 relay (of which she was the anchor).

Recognized as Unionville High’s track and field MVP for three straight years, Wells also excelled in field hockey. Complementing such a distinguished track career at the high school level was the fact that she broke the Canadian Youth under-17 record of 59.48 seconds in the 400m hurdles in June 2006. During her high school years, she would also practice at York University, the site of her silver medal run in the Pan Am Games.

Equally accomplished in the class room, her career took her to internationally renowned University of Toronto. Back in 2004, she was invited by the university to participate in its junior development program. At the 2013 Summer Universiade, she proudly represented the University (where she studies physical education and kinesiology) as she helped Canada gain the silver in the 4 x 400-meter hurdle relay.

During her preparation for the Pan Am Games, she participated in a series of tests where she lined up in starting blocks affixed to custom-made force plates, providing research information for grad student Lindsay Musalem. Working with other University of Toronto track athletes, the plates were used for the first time to gather data as the start is the most crucial aspect to success in sprinting, Looking to see if sprinters such as Wells can reproduce strong starts, Musalem was measuring the velocity of sprinters launching from the start blocks, while also determining the exertion of force in numerous directions.

The most admirable aspect of her remarkable run to the silver was the fact that she has bounced back from injury more than once. Prior to the 2012 London Summer Games, Wells was shelved for nine months, after a stress fracture diagnosis on her left femur. The bigger challenge was being able to return to her previous fitness level while maintaining her psychological toughness. A strong belief in herself, plus a strong support network was accentuated as she wrote the word “Believe” on her palm at London, waving to the crowd proudly.

After competition in 2014, the femur endured another stress fracture and nearly did not appear at the Pan Am Games after a tear in her hamstring. As devastating as it was, Wells proved why she is such a world class athlete overcoming adversity. The support of the League Group was an exceptional source of encouragement, helping her build on a remarkable level of fitness. It is an effort that she tries to reciprocate as a co-founder of the Fearless Action Challenge, empowering young girls to stand up to peer pressure while utilizing physical activity as a source of confidence.

Through great determination and perseverance, she managed to rebound and capture a fourth Canadian title in 2015. Contested in Edmonton, the Canadian championships took place just four days prior to the start of the Pan Am Games. As a side note, Wells managed to improve on her time, running faster than she had in practice with a time of 56.03, just 38 seconds off her personal best of 55.65.

Two-run sixth inning part of Canadian comeback against Puerto Rico in third day of women’s baseball at Pan Am Games

Through the first two innings of play, Puerto Rican pitcher Maria Zayas was hurling no-hit ball. Although no Canadian batter had struck out, she was able to stifle their high-powered offense, one which obliterated Cuba and Venezuela during the first two historic days of women’s baseball at the Pan Am Games.

Getting the start for Canada was two-sport star Kate Psota. One of five members of the Canadian roster who also played elite university hockey, Psota allowed four hits and two earned runs in the first two innings of play.

Leading off for Puerto Rico was left fielder Luz D. Feliciano, stroking a single. It would set the tone early on as right fielder Kiara J. Irizarry drove her in, as Puerto Rico enjoyed the first lead of the game. Before the first inning would expire, first baseman Yinoska Claudio also contributed an RBI, extending said lead.

Psota would settle in the second inning, allowing just one hit to second baseman Katiria Davila. Complemented by a first inning strikeout, Psota demonstrated good control on the mound, considering that she had not yet walked one batter through two innings.

Despite the progress, manager Andre Lachance opted for a pitching change in the third inning. Bringing Melissa Armstrong, she kept Puerto Rico scoreless for three innings. Although Yinoska Claudio managed two hits off her, the Puerto Ricans could not bring her in to score. Armstrong would tally three strikeouts, providing Canada with the chance to comeback.

In the bottom of the third, Canada showed signs of life, breaking the shutout. With Jennifer Gilroy on the basepads, 11-year national team veteran (and former CWHL player) Ashley Stephenson drove her in, logging her first RBI in Pan Am Games play.

After both sides went scoreless during the fourth and fifth innings, Canada took control in the sixth inning. With Melissa Armstrong shutting down the Puerto Rican bats with a six strikeout performance, the Canadians came roaring back to life with a dramatic comeback. Jennifer Gilroy continue to be a factor in the game, as she and Veronika Boyd were on base. With Nicole Luchanski at the plate, she continued her MVP-like performance during the Pan Am Games, bringing them both in on a two-RBI hit.

With Canada claiming its first lead of the game, Puerto Rico opted for a pitching change as Zayas was replaced by shortstop Adrix Y. Paradizo. As a side note, Puerto Rico would make four other positional changes in the inning, shuffling its outfield and bringing in Marleen Gomez as a designated hitter. Despite allowing Canada’s seventh hit, Paradizo was able to prevent any further runs from being scored.

Looking to preserve the lead, Amanda Asay (who played hockey at Brown and the University of British Columbia) took to the mound for her first relief appearance in the Pan Am Games. Although Asay would allow two hits, she would successfully retire the side, as Canada improved to an impressive 3-0 mark.

Argentina and Brazil prevail in medal round of beach volleyball at Pan Am Games

One of the favorites in the gold medal conversation, Brazil faced an upset in the semis by eventual gold medalists Argentina. Heading into the gold medal match, Argentina nearly faced their own upset, facing a very talented Cuban team.

Despite winning the first set by a 21-17 tally, Argentina endured a 24-minute long set that saw them lose by two points to Cuba in the second. Bouncing back from the loss and the windy conditions, Argentina only required 16 minutes to dispose of the Cubans in the third and final set.

In service, Cuba’s Lianma Flores had 21 attempts and 1 ace, while teammate Leila Martinez registered 25 attempts and 2 aces. Of note, Martinez would have a game high 18 digs. Argentina’s Ana Gallay would also have 25 attempts (and 1 ace), but teammate Georgina Klug exceeded them all with 29 attempts. Both would provide 12 digs, part of a balanced attack.

In the bronze medal matchup, the promising Canadian team of 22 year-old Taylor Pischke and 23 year-old partner Melissa Humana-Paredes were defeated by the Brazilian team of Liliane Maestrini and Carolina Horta. Of note, Brazil only needed 17 minutes to take the first set by a score of 21-9, while 20 minutes was required to complete the sweep against Canada, taking the second set by a 21-14 margin.

Horta would log 25 attempts, more than Pischke and Humana-Paredes combined (13 and 11). In addition, Horta had 10 digs, which matched the total of the Canadians, while her 6 service aces topped all competitors in the bronze medal match.

Pischke, who was a former star in the indoor game with the University of Manitoba had lamented that Brazil had successfully kept them outside of their game. Compounded by the windy conditions, and possibly still upset over the loss to Cuba in the semifinals, it made winning very difficult on this day.

For host country Canada, a podium finish looked highly possible. Winning their first four consecutive matches (against Cayman Islands, Puerto Rico, Uruguay and Costa Rica), Pischke and Humana-Paredes were establishing themselves as favorites to reach the gold medal game. As a side note, they had not even lost a set until their semi-final defeat against Cuba.

Displaying great sportsmanship, Humana-Paredes returned immediately after the match and acknowledged the fCanadian faithful, thanking them for their support throughout the Games. Had they managed to defeat Brazil, they would have made history as the first Canadian female duo to capture a medal in beach volleyball at the Pan Am Games.

Their defeat signifies the fourth time that Canada has advanced to the semi-finals of beach volleyball at the Pan Am Games, only to emerge without a podium finish. Considering their youth, their skills should only improve, ensuring that the elusive medal shall be proudly placed around their necks at the next Pan Am Games.

Liz Gleadle earns Canada’s first gold medal on the field in Pan Am Games

With the track and field portion of the Pan Am Games underway, Liz Gleadle added to the strong momentum of national pride. Redefining the meaning of the term “Throw Like A Girl”, Gleadle is empowering and energizing. Earning the gold medal in women’s javelin, the crowd at York University’s CIBC Athletics Stadium was jubilant as Gleadle’s gold represented Canada’s first in the field.

In the aftermath of the victory, she burst into tears of joy, receiving hugs from her proud family in attendance. Home field advantage may have certainly propelled her to glory, as she excitedly proclaiming feelings of happiness knowing that so many in the crowd were behind her.

Of note, her distance of 62.83 meters surpassed U.S. record holder Kara Winger, who briefly held the lead with a throw of 61.44 meters. Prior to the Pan Am Games, Gleadle set the new Canadian record with a distance of 64.83m in May 2015 at an IAAF event in Kawasaki, Japan. As a side note, Brazil’s Juciline de Lima claimed bronze.

Under windy conditions, the lead had changed hands throughout the day. Early on, Gleadle’s throw of 59.33 meters was the top distance. De Lima would surpass her with a distance of 60.42 on her fourth attempt. On the final throw, Winger would set the new standard, placing Gleadle under pressure as she ranked third.

Despite the on-field rivalry between the two, there is also a strong mutual respect. Prior to the Games, Winger was reluctant as to whether she would attend. It would come on the suggestion of Gleadle to make the decision to compete.

Hailing from Lethbridge, Alberta, Gleadle is expanding her horizons by learing Spanish. Already fluent in English and French, her newfound knowledge of the Spanish tongue was not only a show of respect for the many Spanish-speaking competitors at the Games, she was also using it in conversation.

Always looking for ways to improve, Gleadle is highly analytical and stated that she felt learning the new language may stimulate other parts of the brain, expanding the thought process and providing different methods of approaching problems and resolving them. With a reading list that also includes works by Tim Ferriss, she has also applied yoga to her daily routine.

On the same day, Gleadle’s friend, Sultana Frizell (named after a winery in France) was also competing at York University in the hammer throw. With a 69.11 meter toss, Frizell earned a bronze medal, while American Amber Campbell obtained silver and a distance of 71.22 meters by Venezuela’s Rosa Rodriguez grabbed gold.

The gold medal for Gleadle reflects how far she has come in three short years. Making her Summer Games debut at London 2012, she became the first Canadian woman to qualify for the javelin final since the 1968 Mexico City Summer Games. Prior to Gleadle, the last Canadian woman to compete in javelin at the Summer Games was in Seoul 1988.

Rebounding after a back injury in 2013, she showed great potential in 2014. From fifth at the Commonwealth Games, she would follow it up with bronze at the IAAF Continental Cup and an impressive gold medal performance at the Birmingham Grand Prix Diamond League event. Such a milestone year was complemented by graduating from the University of British Columbia with a degree in kinesiology.

Women’s basketball legends part of coaching roles with NBA Summer League

While Becky Hammon made history as the first female head coach in NBA Summer League competition, she was not the only women’s basketball star involved in coaching. Joining Hammon was two-time Summer Games competitor Nancy Lieberman, along with Lindsey Harding.

Of note, Lieberman once served on the coaching stint of the WNBA’s Detroit Shock. Known affectionately as Lady Magic, the Old Dominion legend also played in one game with the Shock, competing at 50 years young. The WNBA is a common trait among all three, as each has played on its hardcourt.

Serving on the Sacramento Kings’ coaching staff in Summer League play, it may be the springboard for greater opportunities to come for Lieberman. During the 2014-15 NBA regular season, Kings head coach George Karl had faced questions concerning the possibility of Lieberman joining his staff.

Karl had indicated interest in Lieberman as a candidate, should his coaching staff change in the summer. Declaring her a quality basketball person, such a potential hire would join Hammon as only the second woman to serve in a full-time capacity as an NBA female assistant coach. During the summer of 2014, Hammon was hired by San Antonio Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich.

In addition to experience with the Shock, Lieberman possesses a background in coaching men’s basketball. She became the first woman to coach a men’s pro team when she took the helm of the NBA Development League’s Texas Legends (affiliated with the Dallas Mavericks) in 2009. Currently, she works as a TV analyst for the NBA’s Oklahoma City Thunder. As a side note, she also played alongside men in the former United States Basketball League and was a member of the Washington Generals, who toured with the Harlem Globetrotters.

Working as a guest assistant with the Toronto Raptors at Summer League was Lindsey Harding. No stranger to the Raptors, she was in observance at the Toronto Raptors’ training camp in 2014.Held in very high regard, Harding earned praise from Raptors head coach Dwayne Casey.

Declaring that she has the potential to be a head coach in the NBA one day, Casey was very impressed with Harding’s knowledge and ability to communicate with players. It was also a skill that shone through in Summer League play as Hammon helped the Spurs gel into a championship unit.

Considering that Summer League play (and to a degree Development League play) is meant to cultivate talent and allow undrafted free agents and draft picks to showcase their talents, it is only fitting to allow coaches the same opportunity. In opening the doors of opportunity for accomplished and qualified WNBA talent such as Hammon, Harding and Lieberman, the NBA has once again set a standard, acknowledging the growing role and impact of women in sport.

Five-run first inning propels Canada past Venezuela in Pan Am Games baseball

A five-run first inning would prove to be all that Canada needed as they defeated Venezuela by a 9-3 count. Runs by Nicole Luchanski, Bradi Wall, Amanda Asay, Kelsey Lalor and Jenna Flannigan shattered Venezuela’s confidence. After facing a defeat the day prior against the United States in the first-ever women’s baseball match at the Pan Am Games, Venezuela was hoping to rebound.
Dayvis Cazorla was pulled out of the game in the first inning after allowing four earned runs. Replaced by Esquia Rengel, she would allow one more run in a difficult start for Venezuela.

Former York Lions women’s ice hockey player Autumn Mills showed her versatility with a sterling performance on the mound. Equally adept at playing third base, Mills was part of Canada’s starting rotation at the Pan Am Games. Through three innings, she only allowed one hit, as centerfielder Leona Reyes was the only Venezuelan player to successfully connect off her.

After four consecutive scoreless innings, Canada added to their lead by placing another two runs on the scoreboard. Venezuela would reply by scoring two of their own runs in the bottom of the sixth. Ingrid Escobar, Migreily Angulo and Daily Gimenez would each get hits in the sixth, reducing Canada’s lead.

With Canada facing Lelis Gomez, they extended their lead to seven runs once again with another two-run performance in the seventh inning. Jessica Berube closed out the game for Canada with a relief appearance.

Second baseman Nicole Luchanski would earn two base on balls, becoming the first Canadian to walk twice in Pan Am Games baseball. She would also contribute a solid defensive performance along with RBI’s in the sixth and seventh innings, respectively. In addition, Bradi Wall registered a pair of RBI’s in the game.

Jennifer Gilroy showed why she is a key part of the future for the Canadian women’s team with a remarkable three-RBI performance, complemented by a game-high nine putouts. Except for Veronika Boyd, every other member of the Canadian starting lineup logged at least one hit. Mills registered three strikeouts over six innings pitched while allowing only two earned runs.

Becky Hammon builds on basketball legacy with NBA Summer League championship

From the outset, Becky Hammon had made history before the opening tip-off of the NBA’s Summer League Championship Game. Having made history as the first female assistant coach in NBA history (she served under Gregg Popovich’s staff with the San Antonio Spurs in 2014-15), she would build on such a legacy by serving as the first female head coach in Summer League play.

Leading the San Antonio Spurs prospects and draft picks into Summer League play, Hammon’s tutelage resulted in a 93-90 victory against the Phoenix Suns in the championship game. A key factor in the victory for San Antonio was the fact that Phoenix committed 18 turnovers. The loss compounds frustrations that Phoenix has already endured at the hands of San Antonio, as they acquired prized free agent LaMarcus Aldridge.

Although Hammon becomes the first female head coach to win a Summer League title, an encouraging sign was that two other WNBA stars were coaches as well. Basketball Hall of Famer Nancy Lieberman-Cline was part of the Sacramento Kings coaching staff, while the Toronto Raptors also opened their doors to Lindsay Harding on its coaching staff.

During the 17-day long Summer League season, the fact that the players respected Hammon, in addition to being attentive and responding positively to her feedback and guidance, was testament to the growing role of women in coaching. Although San Antonio lost their opening game against the New York Knicks, the club bounced back to win five consecutive games.

Reputed as a “player’s coach”, she was quick to acknowledge the hard work of her team during the acceptance of the championship trophy. During the locker room ceremonies, she was the recipient of a Gatorade bath, obligatory among all championship coaches throughout sport.

As Hammon noted how the team truly began to come together over the last three to four games of Summer League play, she is equally deserving of the credit. Taking into account that Summer League play features a blend of draft picks, D-League prospects and undrafted free agents with no familiarity, the lack of chemistry is a significant challenge for any coach to overcome.

One player who is poised to benefit from Hammon’s guidance is Jonathon Simmons, whose 23 points topped all scorers. Named MVP of the Summer League’s championship game, he was signed to a one-year guaranteed contract by San Antonio. As a side note, he spent the 2014-15 season with their D-League Affiliate.

Alex Morgan and Christine Sinclair cover EA Sports FIFA 16

With EA Sports release of FIFA 16, it resulted in an unprecedented milestone for the popular video game producer. Two different versions of the game featured women’s soccer superstars joining Lionel Messi on the cover. The version used for Xbox features Women’s World Cup champion Alex Morgan on the cover. Building on the momentum of the 2015 FIFA Women’s World Cup in Canada, legendary Canadian team captain Christine Sinclair graces the cover of the game for PS4.

Of note, this is not the first time that EA Sports has featured women in its popular video games. Women’s ice hockey legends Angela Ruggiero and Hayley Wickenheiser were featured in an NHL video game themed release.

Although a decision had been made prior to the Women’s World Cup concerning Morgan, there had never been a formal announcement. As a side note, an advertisement in the official program for the WWC actually features Sinclair on the cover of an EA Sports game. Following the emotional victory by the US in the FIFA Women’s World Cup, there was an online petition looking to get the entire team on the cover.

Recognizing the growth of women’s soccer in the United States and Canada, along with the cultural impact that its stars are having on both sides of the border, EA has rightfully chosen to celebrate their impact by doing more than just a cover appearance. Adding to the magic is the fact that gamers have the option to utilize female soccer players in the game. Among the 12 different women’s national team that can be selected are Canada, England, Germany and the US.

An offline tournament plus online friendly matches comprise part of the experience. For fans looking to excel at a higher level of play, the game also offers the FIFA Trainer, a new feature that provides instruction.

EA Sports began experimenting with a prototype in 2012. In looking to ensure authenticity, from details as minor as hair animation, members from the US and Canadian teams visited EA’s studios in Vancouver, participating in motion capture. The highly anticipated release date for FIFA 16 is September 22.

Canada and Cuba collide during inaugural day of women’s baseball competition at Pan Am Games

With Canada having won a gold medal in men’s baseball at the Pan Am Games, the Canadian women are aspiring towards a unique and unprecedented double gold. On the road towards such ambitions, host country Canada took to the mound against Cuba. French-Canadian hurler Vanessa Riopel (who has gained celebrity status for her role in a TV advertisement for Maytag) gained the start, while Yanet Cruz was named by Cuba as its starter. Considered one of the aces of Canada’s pitching staff; expect Riopel to gain the start should Canada qualify for the gold medal game.

During the first inning, Dayanna Batista would become Riopel’s first strikeout victim, as the prevailing theme on this day was historic firsts. One inning later, Kelsey Lalor experienced her own brush with history as she became the first Canadian batter to strike out. As a side note, Lalor made a remarkable diving catch in the first, preventing Cuban player Odrisleisis Peguero of an extra-base hit.

Through the first two innings of play, Riopel only allowed one hit as Yurismary Baez connected off her. In so doing, Baez became the first Cuban to earn a hit in women’s baseball at the Pan Am Games. Duplicating such a historic feat for Canada was second baseman Nicole Luchanski. Taking Canada’s first-ever at-bat, she would later record a hit in the third inning, providing the home team with their first of the game.

As a side note, the growing awareness of the national women’s baseball team has resulted in a surge of support. From inspirational speeches by former Canadian female athletes such as Waneek Horn-Miller and Carolyn Waldo, the team was also introduced prior to a Toronto Blue Jays home game at Rogers Centre. In addition, Justine Siegal, chair of the International Baseball Federation’s women’s commission is on-hand during the Pan Am Games to witness history in the making.

The first run of the game would be scored in the top of the third inning as Canada enjoyed the first lead. After adding another run in the fourth, Cuba faced a two-run deficit, struggling to assemble any offensive attack at the plate.

Canadian manager Andre Lachance opted to pull Riopel out of the game in the fifth inning. Her pitching line included 4.2 innings, allowing only two hits, walking two and recording a pair of strikeouts. She would also be credited with Canada’s first-ever win in women’s baseball at the Pan Am Games. Making a relief appearance was second generation pitcher Heidi Northcott, allowing Cuba’s first run of the game as shortstop Mayumis Solano broke the shutout bid.

Heading into the sixth inning, Canada pounded the opposing Cubans with an eight run performance, putting the game out of reach with a 10-1 lead. Cruz would be replaced by Ana Castellanos, who allowed four earned runs and walked two Canadian batters. Yoidania Castro became the third Cuban pitcher of the inning, attempting to curb the Canadian onslaught.

A bloop single by Ashley Stephenson loaded the bases early in the sixth. Lachance would also make substitutions in the sixth providing others with an opportunity to play. Of note, Rebecca Hartley would pinch hit for Veronica Boyd, who was hitless in the game. After getting an RBI-single to make the lead 3-0, Hartley was replaced by Autumn Mills, who assumed a pinch runner’s role.
Of note, Mills would eventually score a run, as Luchanski contributed an RBI single, adding to Canada’s expanding lead. Mills will also be Canada’s starting pitcher in their second game against Venezuela.

Bradi Wall, who logged Canada’s first RBI in Pan Am play during the third inning, would add a double to centre, allowing three runs to score. Subsequently, Lalor reached base on a fielder’s choice as another run scored. Jenna Flannigan would contribute two RBI’s in the inning as the game suddenly became out of reach for Cuba.

In the seventh inning, 11-year veteran Kate Psota pinch hit for Jennifer Gilroy, who also went hitless. Before the inning would expire, Canada added three more runs in the seventh inning as Amanda Asay, Katherine Psota and Flannigan all contributed with RBI singles to extend their lead to a 13-1 margin.

Although Cuba provided a valiant effort, allowing only two runs through five innings, their own struggles at the plate were compounded by four errors in the game.
Statistically, Bradi Wall assembled the best hitting performance of the day with a pair of hits and a game-best four RBI’s. Four players would record two hits in the game, while five players would each score two runs. The only players to accomplish both were Luchanski, Wall and catcher Stephanie Savoie. Along with Jennifer Gilroy, Savoie would also record four putouts. The only member of the Cuban roster to register four putouts was Solano. In between competition, the women’s team plays against top-level teenage boys’ teams from Toronto.

Canada upsets US to capture historic gold medal in women’s basketball at Pan Am Games

With a gold medal on Monday night, the Canadian women’s basketball team contributed two significant milestones. Of note, it continued host country Canada’s streak of at least one gold medal in every day of play. Perhaps more importantly, it marked the first time ever that Canada’s women claimed a gold medal in Pan Am Games basketball.

After one quarter of play, the Americans enjoyed a 23-13 lead. Benefitting from the presence of University of Connecticut superstars Breanna Stewart (the favorite to go first overall in the 2016 WNBA Draft) and Moriah Jefferson, they could not have foreseen the Canadian contingent assembling 10 unanswered points, changing the tempo of the game.

Defeating the United States by an 81-73 count, Kia Nurse played the game of her career, logging 33 points, while grabbing five rebounds and dishing out three assists. During the second period, Nurse would steal the ball and dish an assist, giving Canada their first lead of the game, 31-30. With a 36-36 draw at halftime, Nurse propelled the Canadians to unprecedented heights in the second half.

At one point, the United States faced a 17-point deficit as the sold-out crowd at Ryerson University’s Mattamy Athletic Centre (inside Toronto’s iconic Maple Leaf Gardens) was jubilant with pride. Despite the home court advantage, Canada saw their lead diminish to 11 points as the fourth period began.

Additional heroics were supplied by Natalie Achonwa, who returned to the Canadian roster after suffering a torn ACL last year. Supplying 13 points, her return helped Canada accomplish five wins in five nights. Other opponents that Canada vanquished included the likes of Argentina, Brazil, Cuba and Venezuela. Providing a solid performance on dfense, Tamara Tatham also managed 10 points.

Both Achonwa and Nurse would help put the game out of reach against the US. Hanging on to a five-point lead with only 18 seconds remaining, Achonwa converted on a free throw, while Nurse followed with two of her own, extending said lead to eight points. When Nurse was at the free throw line, excited fans were chanting “M-V-P”. With under four minutes left, Nurse had to be carried off the court due to a collision. The fans gave her a standing ovation, energizing her to return to the court.

Of note, Nurse comes from a very athletic family. Her brother Darnell was a first-round pick of the Edmonton Oilers, while her cousin Sarah plays hockey with the Wisconsin Badgers program. Sarah has also experienced the jubilation of donning the Maple Leaf, playing for the U18 Canadian women’s hockey team. Their uncle Donovan McNabb was a former quarterback in the NFL for the Philadelphia Eagles and the Washington Redskins.

Qualification for the 2016 Rio Summer Games shall begin in August. The Canadians shall hope for the benefit of home court advantage as the FIBA Qualifying Tournament takes place in Edmonton.