OTTAWA â€” Taffe Charles joked to his players that he knew they had a special team this season when they were on the front page of Carleton’s student newspaper.
As far as Charles could remember, it was the first time in a decade.
“I’d been there for 10 years,” said the coach. “I’m thinking ‘You know what? Maybe we have a special group.’ Because sometimes we’d have a good year, and it was the guy’s team or something else (on the cover).”
The Carleton Ravens women’s basketball team takes aim at its first Canadian university title this weekend in Victoria after stunning the Queen’s Gaels to win the OUA conference last weekend.
The women have long played in the shadow of Carleton’s men’s team, which has racked up 12 national titles â€” more than any school in the country â€” and competes for its seventh in a row this weekend in Halifax.
It was part of what intrigued Charles when he was hired women’s head coach in 2007.
“One of the reason I wanted to take that job was to get them out of the shadows and get them some respect,” Charles said. “It’s taken a bit of time, we’ve done some good things. You want respect, but at the end of the day, you’ve got to earn it, and earning it in our environment at Carleton means winning a championship.”
Charles is a lifelong Raven, having been a standout player in the ’90s â€” “My dad says I went to Carleton and never left,” he laughed.
He took an assistant role with the women’s team for three years before joining Dave Smart’s staff with the powerhouse men’s squad, where he helped lead the Ravens to five national titles.
Charles’ women’s team went 21-1 on the season, going undefeated after losing their opener. They took out McMaster in last weekend’s OUA tournament, before shocking the Gaels in the final in front of Queen’s home crowd.
The Ravens, who boast the best defence in the country, limited the Gaels to 41 points, the school’s lowest offensive output of the season.
Afterward, Twitter was buzzing when the Ravens weren’t permitted the traditional cutting down of the net.
“It’s true, it’s very true,” Charles laughed. “The facility manager wasn’t very forthcoming and again, they were very reluctant for us to do it. It wasn’t the cost of it, it was more they were annoyed at having to get a new net up. It’s costs like two cents.”
The top-seeded Ravens open Thursday against the host Vikes, and can draw on their experience of playing in front of a hostile crowd last weekend.
“So that will be a big key, how do we handle that environment and luckily we’ve already experienced it first-hand,” Charles said. “I was really proud of the girls, they sent a lot of (Queen’s) people home disappointed. That takes a lot of character.”
He credits his team’s success this season to the continued growth of some of his third- and fourth-year players. And they added two veterans in Jenjen Abella, who was a transfer from college, and Catherine Traer, who played at the University of Ottawa before transferring to Carleton to pursue a masters degree.
“They are really good character people who really helped in the leadership role,” Charles said.
The Raven women will play in just their third Final 8 tournament after appearances in 201 and 2013.
“I really believe that us winning one national championship, from where we came from and where this program has been, I don’t know if it would count for 12 (Carleton’s 12 men’s titles), but it would count for a whole bunch of them,” Charles said.
The defending Bronze Baby champion Saskatchewan Huskies are the No. 2 seed.
Lori Ewing, The Canadian Press