The Lakeland Rustlers women's basketball team was in Fort McMurray from February 28 to March 2 for the ACAC Women's Basketball Championships, where the team made history for the Rustlers women's program. For the first time in program history, the team won the bronze medal, the first medal ever for women's basketball at Lakeland.
The Rustlers were the #1 seed in the north division heading into the championships, and faced the St. Mary's Lightning, the #4 seed in the south division in the quarter-finals Thursday afternoon. Despite showing some nerves early on, the Rustlers jumped out to a quick lead and never looked back. In the 1st quarter, the Rustlers forced the Lightning into several shot clock violations, holding them to just 5 points in the quarter, while scoring 16 of their own. The Rustlers would extend their lead to 19 in the opening minutes of the 2nd quarter, going on an 8-0 run in the first 3:27. It was all Rustlers for the rest of the first half, as they lead 40-9 after 20 minutes. The Lightning were able to knock down some shots in the second half, but the Rustlers proved to be the better team, coming away with the 67-44 win.
Leading the way for the Rustlers was second-year guard Hailey Somers with 11 points, 5 rebounds, and 4 assists, while Ally Pilgrim (third-year guard), Kaitlyn Tonita (second-year guard) and Meg Ferraz (third-year guard) added 10 points apiece.
Player of the game for the Rustlers was second-year forward Bilge Topaloglu, who finished with 8 points, 4 rebounds, 1 assist, 1 steal and 2 blocks.
Friday's semi-final would have the Rustlers facing the Olds College Broncos, the #2 seed in the south division. The Rustlers faced the Broncos in the quarter-finals last year, where the Rustlers won to advance to the semi-finals. Despite not playing each other in the regular season, the two teams had seen each other before, matching up in the North-South Challenged, hosted by the NAIT Ooks in December. The Broncos got out to the lead to start the game, with the Rustlers showing some nerves early on. The Rustlers trailed the Broncos 18-9 after the 1st quarter, but responded in the 2nd, cutting the Broncos lead to 1, 26-25 at the half.
The energy and intensity increased in the 3rd quarter, with both teams battling for a spot in the ACAC championship game and a trip to the CCAA Women's Basketball Championships. The Broncos would extend their lead to 6 at the end of the 3rd quarter, but the Rustlers continued to fight. In the 4th quarter, the Rustlers could not capitalize on Broncos mistakes and ultimately fell to the Broncos 60-51.
Tonita led the way for the Rustlers with 13 points, 8 rebounds, and 3 assists, earning her player of the game. Topaloglu and Somers both made big contributions again for the Rustlers, with Topaloglu finishing with 10 points and 4 rebounds, while Somers added 10 points, 2 rebounds, 1 assist and 2 steals.
The bronze medal game would be a true test of character for the Rustlers in how they would respond from the semi-final loss. In Saturday's bronze medal match, the Rustlers faced the University of Alberta – Augustana Vikings, whom the Rustlers had played in the regular season finale just a week before. The Rustlers got out to an early lead in the 1st quarter, thank to transition baskets by Somers and fellow second-year guard Jaden Cook. The two guards combined to have 12 of the Rustlers 20 1st quarter points as they lead 20-7 after 10 minutes. In the 2nd quarter, the Vikings began to knock down shots, but the Rustlers held their own, maintaining the 13-point lead at halftime, 34-21.
The Vikings would make a push in the 3rd, tying the game at 40 with 2:20 left in the quarter. The Rustlers responded to the Vikings run and finished the quarter with a 7-0 run of their own, to lead 47-40 heading into the final quarter. In the 4th, the teams would trade 3-pointers, with the Vikings trying to cut into the Rustlers lead. The Vikings would get as close as 4, but the Rustlers were determined to come away with a medal and did so with the 56-46 win.
Tonita led the Rustlers once again, finishing with 13 points, 12 rebounds, 1 assist and 1 steal, earning her player of the game. Cook finished the game with 8 points, 1 rebound, 2 assists and 1 steal, while third-year guard Angela Baran added 8 points, 2 rebounds, 2 assists and 2 steals. To cap off the weekend, Tonita and Somers were both named to the tournament all-star team.
With the bronze medal finish on the weekend, the Rustlers season has now come to a close. While the team achieved history with the first ACAC medal in program history, the team fell short of their ultimate goal of ACAC and CCAA champions.
This team showed what can happen when everyone comes together and buys into their role, going on an incredible run since mid-November and showing everyone that they were one of the best teams in the ACAC.