© Guardian photo by Jason Malloy
UPEI Panthers' Jenna Jones, Amy Gough and Danielle MacDonald.
Host Panthers face Cape Breton at AUS women's basketball championship
A trio of UPEI Panthers has been around for 80 regular season games. Today, they play their first playoff game.
Guards Jenna Jones, Danielle MacDonald and Amy Gough have been through some lean years. The Panthers were winless in their first season, earned two wins in year two and went 6-14 in 2012-13.
UPEI was 9-11 this season to end a playoff drought that goes back to 2007-08.
“It’s pretty exciting,” said MacDonald, a five-foot-five guard from Sydney Mines, N.S. “Having it like our first playoffs for most of us, it’s kind of surreal.”
The Panthers finished sixth last season in the eight-team Atlantic University Sport (AUS) conference. They didn’t get to attend the playoffs as UNB finished below them in the standings, but earned a berth as the host team.
UPEI is the site of this weekend’s tournament, but the Panthers earned their way to the postseason.
“The girls are proud of themselves for making it,” Jones said. “It feels great. We finally reached our goal of competing in the AUS playoffs.”
Jones came from a winning program at Riverview High School in New Brunswick and said it was tough losing so many games early in her university career.
She said the program started to turn around in the third year when Jones’ high school coach, Greg Gould, took over. He spoke often about getting the team to believe they could win.
“I didn’t realize how much my game mentally changed. I now know we can win,” Jones said. “I have more confidence going into these games then my first and second years.”
MacDonald said the Panthers have grown as players and are a close-knit group.
“That support has never died off,” she said. “It’s literally like my second family.”
Kiera Rigby, who grew up in Charlottetown, is glad to see the team get into the playoffs, particularly for the three veterans.
“To see where they have come from, where they are now . . . they’re so passionate,” the first-year forward said. “They’re such great leaders and I am just so proud of them.”
The Panthers are not satisfied to be in the playoffs, they want to win.
MacDonald said the sixth-seeded Panthers want to play their best game of the season tonight when they meet the third-place Cape Breton Capers at 8 p.m.
“All that work we’ve done all year is really (leading) up to this night, so we’re really excited and it’s going to be fun,” MacDonald said. “All of our parents are going to be here, so it’s going to be pretty amazing to have that support.”
Gould said the team just has to go out and play its game.
“If we play the way we’re capable of playing, we feel confident we can win, and I’m sure the other team feels the same way,” he said.
The Capers won both games against the Panthers this season, including a two-point win here in Charlottetown. Cape Breton won by 12 in Sydney, N.S., but held a two-point lead going to the fourth.
“I wouldn’t consider us underdogs because the league is so close that it’s really up to anybody,” MacDonald said.
Second place is separated from sixth by two wins, but because the league has two- and four-point games there is an 18-point spread between the teams.
“The teams are so close from two to eight that on any given day anybody can win,” Gould said.
The Panthers have a dearth of playoff experience at the AUS level. Julie Hatcher played about a minute with Saint Mary’s while Tamara Tompkins played a game with UNB.
“We have a lot of players who have played in big tournaments,” Gould said.
It includes high school provincial champs and players who have played at nationals with provincial teams.
The Panthers are not alone as the fifth-year Capers point guard Tanira McClurkin is the only Cape Breton player with AUS playoff experience.
A look at the AUS women’s basketball champions since 1992-93.
2012-13 Saint Mary’s
2010-11 Cape Breton
2009-10 Cape Breton
2008-09 Cape Breton
2005-06 Cape Breton
2003-04 Cape Breton
1996-97 St. F.X.
A look at the UPEI Panthers’ women’s basketball team roster
Candace Smith, New Minas, N.S.
Katie Donahoe, Riverview, N.B.
Holly Jones, Riverview, N.B.
Jenna Jones, Riverview, N.B.
Amy Gough, St. John’s, N.L.
Julie Hatcher, Riverview, N.B.
Danielle MacDonald, Sydney Mines, N.S.
Darcy Zinck, Halifax
Tamara Tompkins, Centreville, N.B.
*Anne Kiberd, Halifax
Terrilyn Herrick, Kinburn, Ont.
Jane McLaughlin, Fortune, P.E.I.
Kiera Rigby, Charlottetown
Laura Power, St. John’s, N.L.
Jessica Patenaude, Charlottetown
Elysia Drost, Hammonds Plains, N.S.
* - Redshirt transfer.
Need To Know
Cape Breton –11-9
UPEI – 9-11
Cape Breton – 1,295
UPEI – 1,297
Cape Breton – 1,323
UPEI – 1,313
Nov. 29 - UPEI 70 at Cape Breton 82
Jan. 10 - Cape Breton 67 at UPEI 65
Interesting note – Cape Breton’s Alison Keough scored 23 points in each of the games.
Dalhousie (5) vs. Memorial (4), 6 p.m.
UPEI (6) vs. Cape Breton (3), 8 p.m.
Saint Mary’s (1) vs. winner of quarter-final 1, 6 p.m.
St. F.X. (2) vs. winner of quarter-final 2, 8 p.m.
Championship game, 2 p.m.