In the lead up to the U SPORTS Women's Basketball Final 8 in Victoria (March 9-12), Canada West is taking a trip down memory lane, highlighting the conference's past national champions. In our latest feature, we look at the Saskatchewan Huskies, who captured the national title in 2015-16 for the first time in school history.
Brian Swane, Special to Canada West
EDMONTON - Saskatchewan held a double-digit lead over Ryerson with less than a minute remaining in the 2016 women's basketball championship final when senior forward Dalyce Emmerson first started entertaining thoughts of victory.
But the Huskies co-captain wasn't taking anything for granted until she heard coach Lisa Thomaidis during the game's final timeout.
"When she said just get the rebound and enjoy the last 14 seconds, then I knew that she knew we were going to win," Emmerson says.
"That made me so much more relieved that she believed it too. It was just a matter of letting the last 14 seconds run out."
Moments later, dreams were reality: The Saskatchewan Huskies had defeated the Ryerson Rams 85-71 before a raucous crowd in Fredericton, N.B., to capture the program's first national title.
The final buzzer, being named tournament MVP, and finally hoisting the Bronze Baby - it's all a blur for Emerson, who, for probably the only time in her university career, lost focus upon breaking from Saskatchewan's last huddle.
"I have watched the game since, and I don't even know if I have a check in the last 14 seconds," she says. "I don't even know if I know where my player were.
"I don't remember a whole lot about it, I just remember all of a sudden all of our teammates were running at us when the buzzer went and we were all jumping around."
Much clearer are memories of the heartbreak preceding this moment of triumph. Saskatchewan reached the national semifinal in 2014 and 2015, but lost both times and would go on to taste defeat in the bronze medal game each year too.
After opening the 2016 championship with a 73-62 quarter-final victory over Ottawa, Saskatchewan met St. Mary's in the semifinal. Saskatchewan led by as much 18 in the third quarter, but St. Mary's stormed back and trailed by just one, 56-55, with less than three minutes remaining in the game.
That's when Emmerson took control.
Over a 35-second span, the Prince Albert, Sask., product hit a jumper, blocked an opponent's shot, and made a lay-up. The latter put her team up by five and would prove the deciding basket in Saskatchewan's 65-58 win.
"I can honestly say that there wasn't a point in that game where I was worried," says Emmerson. "I knew we were going to win, I just didn't know if we were going to win by 15 or by two. But I knew it was different (from previous years) because we had all the pieces, we were all playing well, and it was just a matter of who was going to click into their 'beast mode' at the right time ... So once we locked in on D and started getting some stops, I knew for sure we were going to be fine, we were going to win that game."
Such confidence demonstrated the growth Emmerson and her fellow seniors had made while playing for Thomaidis, who took over the program in 2000, and longtime assistant coaches Ali Fairbrother and Jacqueline Lavellee.
"A big thing for a lot of us players was we knew it was such a good opportunity, not only for us to leave as national champions, but to win that first one for Lisa, Ali and Jackie, who have been around 15-plus years, all coaching and putting in so much time and effort and energy into developing the players (and) had put in so much time from their lives to build this program," Emmerson says.
"I think that's why I felt so relieved after we won because it was like, 'We finally got them a championship after all this time.'"
The first, they hope, of many.
"Us graduated players have talked a lot and interacted a lot with the new ones, so I think ... it makes it that much more real that it's possible to (win a championship) and that it's a realistic goal to have.
"I think for them, it's not even pressure, but it's going to be a goal to reach again, because they know it's been done and they want to keep doing it over and over."
More on the U SPORTS Women's Basketball Final 8:
For the first time since 1993, the best women's basketball teams in Canada will converge on the University of Victoria for the U SPORTS Final 8 national championship tournament.
Watch Canada's brightest basketball stars compete for the national championship title at the new CARSA Performance Gym in Victoria from March 9-12.
Tournament packages are now on sale for the 11-game event at govikesgo.com/nationals.