Young Blazers Punch Above Their Weight To De-Throne A Dynasty
Though the CMU Blazers entered the 2018 Manitoba Colleges Athletic Conference Women's Basketball Championship as the higher-seeded team, not many would have picked them to defeat the veteran-laden and Championship-tested Red River Rebels in a one game final, but that's exactly what happened on Saturday night. Balanced scoring combined with tenacious defending and determined rebounding helped CMU to a 40-point second half and a come from behind win, 70-55, earning them their first MCAC Women's Basketball Championship since 2010.
The six-time MCAC Champion Rebels had a less than impressive opening ten minutes that allowed the Blazers to amass a 15-9 lead at the end of one quarter. The dynamic scoring tandem of Zera Lynn Panesa and Susanna Namgung were unable to find their jumpshots while below the basket even the second chance scoring opportunities were left empty for Red River. The drought continued for 8:34 with the Rebels only points coming from the free throw line until Panesa splashed a three-ball from beyond the arc ending, bringing her team confidence.
On the other side, rookies Kiara Rongavilla and Aimee Garland had things clicking in their offensive game for CMU. While Rongavilla was pushing the tempo and scoring from the perimeter, Garland was driving the ball to the hoop, scoring herself or dishing off to second-year forward Caitlin Fennell who led the Blazers in scoring with 13.
Panesa got her game going late in the first quarter and never looked back. The third-year guard cashed in on 4 of 11 field goal attempts and shot 6 for 8 from the free throw line for 15 first half points, giving the Rebels the lead late in the second quarter and helping her team to a 32-30 halftime advantage. The Rebels guard would score 15 more in the second half, finishing with a game high 30 points; more than half of her team's total offense.
The Blazers mental strength and conditioning was apparent over the final 20 minutes and it was clear they were prepared to battle with the defending champions. Another rookie, Shirliz Apiyo, who played only 4:10 of the first half, burst onto the scene in the third quarter to help CMU take back the lead. The Fort Richmond Collegiate product shot 3 for 4 for 8 second half points, and accounted for 2 critical steals and rebounds. She would end with 11 points.
After a 20-point third quarter gave the Blazers an 8 point advantage heading into the fourth, Championship MVP Jessica Marx-Houndle ensured that her team would continue to drive the game all the way to the final buzzer. The second-year guard was relentless; running the court, pounding the glass for rebounds and distributing the basketball in transition. Marx-Houndle would finish with 9 points, 8 rebounds and 4 assists and alongside team captains Vanessa Millions and Fennell, lifted the first MCAC Women's Basketball Championship Trophy for CMU since 2010.
With the Northern Intercollegiate Athletic Conference Championship Tournament only four days away, the Blazers can only enjoy the sweet feeling of victory for a few hours before getting back to work. South of the border, CMU enters the NIAC quarter finals as the #3 ranked program and will tip-off Thursday afternoon in Fort Totten, North Dakota against the #6 Turtle Mountain Mighty Mickinocks, who the Blazers split a two-game series with in Belcourt in late January.