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. We continue our journey with the Calgary Dinos and their remarkable run to the 1989 national title.
Brian Swane, Special to Canada West
EDMONTON - The late 80s was a time of sporting excellence in Calgary.
The city hosted a wildly successful Winter Olympics.
The NHL's Flames won the Stanley Cup.
And then there was the University of Calgary's women's basketball team.
Not only did the Dinos capture the 1989 Canadian university championship, they did it during a record-setting streak that made them sports stars in a town filled with them.
"We did get a lot of press," recalls Susan Jickling, who played for the Dinos from 1987 to 1991.
"I had a couple friends that played in the (Western Hockey League) and they came and played in Calgary and laughed because women's basketball got bigger press than what they got in the newspaper."
The Dinos deserved every bit of attention they got. Between March 6, 1988 and March 9, 1990, the Dinos went 69 consecutive games without a loss against Canadian and American universities, highlighted by a 92-55 trampling of UPEI in the national championship final on March 11, 1989.
"It was a good group of girls that were very focused and dedicated. We never took anything for granted," Jickling says. "It was an interesting team because we had strong bench strength and strong starters, so if anyone was ever to fall, there was always someone coming in to pick it up if needed. So it was just a really tight, close group of girls who all had a common goal. And it may sound cliché, but honestly it was a very tight group that gave everything in practice and in games. It was a neat team."
There may not be another team in Canadian women's basketball history that has faced a spotlight brighter than that which shone on the Dinos. Even away from Calgary, the attention was immense, with local TV stations dispensing cameras to cover the action when the Dinos came to town.
"I don't think we ever focused on it, which looking back is odd, but those things just happened," Jickling says. "It was part of our hard work and us driving to win the national championship."
Part of what made the Dinos' story so remarkable is that the lineup was comprised almost entirely of hometown talent, who had grown up playing with and against one another. The only member of the 1988-89 roster not from Calgary was Veronica VanderSchee, a product of Lacombe, Alta. – less than two hours to the north.
"Because Calgary had a strong program we choose to stay home," Jickling says. "You have to give kudos to the program and the coaching, because that kept a lot of people here that could have gone elsewhere. Every person for sure would have been recruited to other universities easily."
Under coach Donna Roman Rudakas, the Dinos had captured their first medals at nationals, with bronze in both 1980 and 1984, and after a couple transitional seasons, were poised for a breakthrough in 1988.
On Feb. 27, the night before the closing ceremonies of the Calgary Games, the Dinos knocked off the Victoria Vikes to win the Canada West title. Riding that momentum, they headed to Lethbridge for the championship tournament.
Calgary opened with a quarterfinal victory over the host Pronghorns, then dispatched of UPEI to reach the final, where the Dinos came up just short in a 61-55 loss to Manitoba.
That would be the last time they tasted defeat for two years.
Calgary steamrolled through its 1988-89 schedule. Whether they were at home or away, in exhibition or regular season, against conference rivals or NCAA teams, the Dinos' result was always the same: a win, often in resounding fashion.
After a 20-0 regular season and a second straight Canada West title, the Dinos made the trip to Sudbury, site of the 1989 championship tourney. The quarterfinal went as planned – a 74-55 victory over host Laurentian – but the Dinos got into deep trouble in the semifinal.
Trailing Toronto by 17 points at halftime, the Dinos roared back over the final 20 minutes, out-scoring the Varsity Blues by 22 points en route to a 78-73 triumph.
"We just maintained our focus and knew that we were a strong team and could come back," says Jickling. "There was a little bit of angst, but we were always fairly confident, so we came out of there thinking, 'We're going to win the second half and we're going to win the game.'"
Following the previous day's drama, the championship game proved anticlimactic. Calgary crushed UPEI 92-55, in what remains, by a large margin, the most lopsided victory in Canadian women's university basketball championship final history.
"The only thing you remember is the buzzer going and (knowing) that we did it, we won," Jickling says. "Because we came close the year before, it was just the excitement of knowing we'd accomplished that."
The next season saw the Dinos again finish with a 20-0 record, followed by another Canada West gold medal. At 1990 Nationals in Toronto, Calgary reached the championship game, though a repeat title was not to be, as the Dinos were dethroned by Laurentian, 74-65.
It was the end of their undefeated streak, but the Dinos had long since cemented their legacy.
Nearly three decades later, time has not forgotten those dozen young women from the University of Calgary who made a school, a city, and a country, sit up and take notice.
"I have many fond memories and the only way I can really summarize it is that there's no better way to go to university than to be able to be involved and part of a team sport," Jickling says. "There's not just the championship game, but tons of other things, and when you think of university, most of it has to do with basketball.
"I got a degree, but it was basketball and my teammates – my friends – that I can remember most."
Next up on the Road to the Final 8…the UBC Thunderbirds (Wednesday, March 8).
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.