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Photo: Marta Kierkus

Gee-Gees men’s and women’s teams start strong

It was a long wait, but Gee-Gees basketball is finally back in full force.

The teams’ long-awaited shared home opener was an overwhelming success, and left its audience ecstatic to see garnet and grey on the floor at Montpetit Hall once again.

The men’s team, which is currently ranked as the number one team in Canada, got a unique opportunity that served as a final warm up for their season opener.

In front of 17,302 fans packed into the historic Assembly Hall in Bloomington, IN, the Gee-Gees went toe-to-toe with one of the best basketball teams in the United States.

Although the Gees couldn’t pull off a second upset in as many years over America’s 15th ranked Indiana Hoosiers, the team put in a valiant effort in the 82-54 loss.

Days later the team prepared for their matchup with the Nipissing Lakers, a team that struggled last season.

Home sweet home

In the team’s first game, they would waste no time in pouncing on the Lakers, opening up a 26-4 lead at the end of the first quarter.

The Gees wouldn’t look back for the rest of the match as they cruised to a 91-49 win.

L’Africain led all scorers with 20 points, while Agada added 17 points, 10 rebounds, and four assists.

Despite the convincing win, there are parts of the team’s act that need to be cleaned up before they reach their full potential.

“I thought we were sloppy tonight with the basketball,” said head coach James Derouin.

“In transition I don’t think we converted like we should. We were overthinking some of the passes. A little careless is probably the word. It’s pretty uncharacteristic for us so hopefully we clean it up by tomorrow night.”

For Caleb Agada, a budding superstar, the win was sweet for him and his team.

“It’s always great getting a good win in front of a huge crowd at the home opener,” said Agada. “It means a lot to the team, everyone got in, everyone played. We did some really good stuff but there are some things to work on, but I think everyone’s really happy with our position right now.”

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Women win big twice

The Gee-Gees women’s team is out to a fantastic start to the year following two big wins over the home opening weekend.

In the first game, the Gees overpowered Nipissing with their shooting, particularly in a fourth quarter push that sealed a 65-46 win.

The return of fourth-year swingman Catherine Traer proved to be a massive addition to the Gees’ starting five.

Traer lead the team in scoring with 18 points while second-year guard Ariane Lefebvre added 10 points off of the bench.

“If Traer wasn’t playing for us we probably would’ve struggled to win that one,” said head coach Andy Sparks. “Overall it’s a win but we’re probably playing the weakest team in the country today so we expect a lot tougher test tomorrow.”

The team would receive a tougher test the next day as they took on the Laurentian Voyageurs the next night in the Shoot for the Cure game.

The Gees weathered a hard push from Laurentian in the early goings but ultimately rallied to secure a convincing 80-57 win.

Every year the Shoot for the Cure game is scheduled between the Gee-Gees and Voyageurs in memory of Carolyn Sturgess, a Laurentian sports Hall of Famer, Ottawa-native, and close friend of Sparks. Sturgess lost her battle with breast cancer in 2009, and since then the teams play to honour her legacy and raise funds for breast cancer research. Her brother Shawn Swords is also the head coach of the Voyageurs men’s team.

“She left a family behind and certainly the Swords family is fantastic. They’ve been all national-level athletes and as good as they have been as athletes, they’re better people. This game is for everybody that goes through that stuff,” said Sparks.

Statement win closes weekend

On Nov. 7, the Gee-Gees men’s team went up against a scrappy Laurentian team that always fights tooth and nail in can’t-miss games.

An early lull in scoring allowed the Voyageurs to hang around in the game much longer than anticipated.

A fiery James Derouin rallied his team and ensured that they did not let their mistakes bury them.

The team responded with an emphatic second half, scoring 53 points to secure a 97-66 win.

L’Africain was once again the leading scorer on the night with 23 points, Matt Plunkett was also on fire as he put up a 19-point, 10-rebound performance.

“It’s been a long week but there’s no excuses,” said L’Africain. “The guys were a little bit tired but in the second half we just turned it up a little bit.”

“Every year they’re a pain in the ass to play against,” said Derouin. “They’re coming in here hungry playing hard and our heads are in the clouds a little bit. That’s what can happen. Shawn (Swords) does a great job putting them in that position.”

Leadership switch

Responding from early adversity will be a key for the team this year, and the burden will fall on the shoulders of their leaders to pull them out of trouble.

This year’s leaders are L’Africain and Agada, two of the nation’s best players that aren’t afraid to motivate their team by any means possible.

“We had the best guys setting examples for us in Johnny (Berhanemeskel) and Gab (Gonthier-Dubue),” said Agada. “Before they left they sat us down and talked to us, so we’re just trying to do exactly what they told us to.”

For L’Africain, taking a leadership role is nothing new—as the point guard he’s been leading the team on the floor for five years, and nothing will change this season.

“Maybe I have to shoot a little bit more and be more aggressive,” he said. “I think I’ve been a leader since I started playing, so I’m not really worried.

We just need to get guys to buy in and play harder on defence and get better at rebounding and we’ll be fine. Caleb is doing a great job too.”

The Gees will take to the road next to meet with Lakehead and Guelph on Nov. 13 and 14. The games will be streamed on OUA.tv.

—Additional photo courtesy of James Benedict, Indiana Daily Student.