The Ryerson Rams are focused on the ultimate prize.
Wind of an impressive 13-6 regular season record coupled with their 10th straight playoff appearance was taken out of its sails by the disappointment of failing to defend their 2015-16 title.
Rams finished 14th, 14th, and 15th out of 17 schools in three-point percentage (24.7), attempts (14.7), and makes (3.6), an open sore that held them back in their biggest games. Of the players that attempted at least two three-pointers per game last season, none hit the 30 per cent mark.
“Our post play is one of our team’s biggest strengths, but we need to improve our perimeter shooting in order to keep the floor spread and open things up inside as well,” head coach Carly Clarke said.
Leading their interior play was forward Sofia Paska, who combined with guard Kellie Ring marginalize the absence of key departees Keneca Pingue-Giles, Silvana Jez, and Mariah Nunes. Paska averaged 18.5 points and 10.4 rebounds over 19 starts during the regular season and Clarke believes she is on the path to joining some rarefied air.
“If Paska continues on the path she is on, she has the potential to be one of the best Rams ever. Her continued work in the gym on her own is most impressive. She spends more time working on her game outside of practice than any other player on our team, which shows great leadership. She is an incredibly skilled player for her size and strength and makes everyone around her better.”
Ring was another who helped make the whole greater than the sum of its parts from the point of attack, averaging 14.6 points, 6.8 rebounds, and 4.3 assists. She will be a significant loss this season, but it opens more responsibility for backcourt partner Cara Tiemens, who was the team’s third-leading scorer at 8.2 points per game.
“Now, being a veteran, we are leaning on her for more leadership on and off the court,” Clarke said. “She has been a steady defensive anchor for us her whole career, so we will expect her to lead in that regard as well as moving back to the point guard position.
“She will have a larger role in facilitating offence and ensuring we get the ball to the right people in the right spots.”
Clarke is also welcoming five first-year players to the squad who will all be eager to make their mark.
Having to manage faces both old and new is a constant challenge at the university level, and so she stresses the importance of accountability and communication among her key takeaways from leading the U-19 Junior Canada Women’s National Team to their first ever medal — bronze — at the 2017 FIBA U-19 World Cup.
“One of the things we really emphasized as a team this summer was our connection and what was needed individually and as a team to be successful. So, building on our team connectedness on and off the court is a big part of our plan for this Rams team as well.”
Laying the groundwork early and having a clear blueprint goes a long way towards designing a sound plan, but the mindset plays a crucial role in determining its level of execution.
“We set large outcome goals for our team every season to work towards,” Clarke said. “But, we must stay present and focus on the process of giving ourselves the opportunity to improve and have a chance to compete in the games we want to be in at the end of the season.”
No matter the roster Clarke works with, rest assured, her winning mentality and growing aura will hold the Rams in good stead.