Entering the USPORTS National Championships as the top seed, the Rouge et Or from l’Université de Laval (Québec) were looking for their first title in women’s basketball. Heading into the tournament, the program experienced a remarkable run of momentum. Capturing their third straight RSEQ regular season crown, the Rouge et Or endured only one regular season loss, while setting a program record for most points in a season with an astounding 1,187, an average of 74.18 per game.
Just as dominant in the postseason, the Rouge et Or defeated the Concordia Stingers by a 20-point margin (75-55), enjoying their first Conference Championship since 2011. Aiming for their first-ever national championship, the Rouge et Or last appeared in the finals back in 2017, opposing conference rival McGill in an all-RSEQ matchup.
Khaleann Caron-Goudreau, a former competitor at the University of Texas, where she sported a blonde mane, added to the sense of momentum. Featured on “Sportsnet Connected”, merely days before opening tip-off, testament to the Rouge et Or’s status as a national power, simultaneously raising awareness of the game’s quality.
Leading the RSEQ conference with 1.7 blocks per game, the presence of Caron-Goudreau, who was also a Conference First-Team All-Star, was highly valuable in the paint, grabbing 9.4 rebounds per game, placing third in the conference, respectively. Bestowed with the National Defensive Player of the Year Award, her achievements added to the impressive haul of hardcourt hardware. Guillaume Giroux, who was also part of the Sportsnet feature, grabbed the USPORTS Coach of the Year honors.
Capturing the Nan Copp Award, given to the most outstanding player in USPORTS women’s basketball, Sarah-Jane Marois capped off a sparkling regular season for the Rouge et Or, displaying a superlative statistical consistency. Despite ranking only seventh in the RSEQ Conference with 13 points per game, she was the key cog for an offensive attack that propelled the Rouge et Or towards a one-loss season.
With Marois’ 3.6 assists placing fourth in the conference, while her solid three-point percentage of 41 established her as second best, she topped all competitors with a sterling 94.6 free throw shooting percentage, a well-rounded display of playmaking brilliance. Worth noting, she was the only member of the Rouge et Or to garner First Team All-Canadian status.
En route to the national championship game at the Mattamy Athletic Centre (located inside the iconic Maple Leaf Gardens), the Rouge et Or vanquished the likes of tournament host, the Ryerson Rams (73-51) and the University of Ottawa Gee-Gees (60-56). Challenging the Hamilton, Ontario-based McMaster Marauders in the gold medal game, whose tournament opponents included the Concordia Stingers and the Saskatchewan Huskies, this marked their first-ever appearance in the championship game.
Worth noting, the Marauders also featured their own national award winner. Receiving the Sylvia Sweeney Award, which represents USPORTS’ Student-Athlete Community Service honor, starting guard, and co-captain Hilary Hanaka, also earned Academic All-Canadian honors, respectively. Scoring 12 points, complemented by three assists and one steal, she also amassed 36 minutes on the court in a stunning 70-58 upset.
Caron-Gaudreau emerged as a critical component of the offense early on, racking up the first points for the Rouge et Or after going scoreless in the first three minutes. With Claudia Emond, the pride of Saguenay making back-to-back three pointers, the Rouge et Or boasted the 10-9 advantage late in the first. Marois would duplicate Emond’s precision from the three point line during the second quarter, as her team boasted a 30-23 lead, which would later stand as 33-27 at halftime.
A three-pointer by Linnaea Harper, followed by a layup saw the Marauders quickly trim their deficit to just one point. Employing a suffocating defense to restrain the Rouge et Or, Christina Buttenham managed a layup, allowing the Marauders to reclaim the lead. Serving as the game’s turning point, she would follow it up with a successful shot from the free throw line, claiming a 42-38 lead.
Displaying the mettle that made her National Player of the Year, Marois would reply with a three pointer, followed by a free throw that tied the game at 42-apiece. Complemented by Emond’s efficiency at the free throw line, the game changed leads frequently, before the Marauders enjoyed a ten-point run as the scoreboard read 64-54 in their favor, eventually placing the game out of reach. Linnaea Harper, who would gain Tournament MVP honors, excelled in the final five minutes of the fourth quarter, posting eight points, to demoralize the favored Rouge et Or.
Despite only posting a 37.7 field goal percentage, the Marauders were solid at the free throw line, a key edge in the championship result. Caron-Goudreau amassed 35 minutes of time on the court, respectable 10 points, living up to her billing as Defensive Player of the Year. A beast on the hardcourt, nine defensive rebounds, gaining 12 in total, while intimidating the opposing offense with four blocks and two steals.
Recognized as the Player of the Game for the Rouge et Or, it marked the final honor in the collegiate career of Caron-Goudreau, while Christina Buttenham gained the same honor for the National Champions. The two would be joined by Marois as national championship game participants that gained Tournament All-Star stauts. Joining them were Summer Masikewich of the, Saskatchewan Huskies and Brooklyn McAlear-Fanus from the, Ottawa Gee-Gees.
Marois led all players with 39 minutes, racking up a game-high 21 points. With only 3 Rouge et Or players in double digits, as Claudia Emond also posted seven rebounds and two steals, complemented by 15 points. The trio of Caron-Gaudreau, Emond and Marios accounted for 79 percent of the points put up by the Rouge et Or.
Compared to the Marauders, their balanced attack saw four players in double digits, with Sarah Gates and Linnaea Harper each posting a team-best 18 points, providing the program with their first podium finish at the USPORTS Nationals since 1990, when they emerged with a bronze medal.