By Sean Rooney on March 14, 2018.
Ten years ago, it all hinged on a phone call for the Cinderella Rattlers.
After surprising everyone by reaching the Alberta Colleges Athletic Conference final, Medicine Hat’s women’s basketball team didn’t have a spot at nationals already in hand, like they did this year.
When they lost 72-59 to Concordia in the title game, the national body hadn’t yet picked its two wild card entries for the tournament in Nova Scotia.
The Rattlers got a chance to plead their case. A 10-minute phone call with the Canadian Collegiate Athletic Association would determine if they were done or had to plan a massive trip in a week.
Help came unexpectedly from the team they’d upset to get to the final.
“It was a touch of class by Mount Royal,” recalls then-Rattlers coach Jason McLester. “After we beat them and lost to Concordia, they phoned me and talked me through the wild card. They said this is what you need to talk about.
“We went out to B.C. and went 1-6 in pre-season. What helped us was Mount Royal went at Christmas and beat everyone. We beat them so it was ‘thank you Mount Royal for beating those teams.'”
McLester was down in the Snake Pit when the good news came.
“(Then-athletic director) Kelly Almer gave me a fist pump and I knew we’d better book some flights because we’re on our way.”
Those Rattlers were a much different squad than the 2018 version that’s in New Brunswick today, preparing for their first game against the host Mount Allison Mounties tomorrow (3 p.m., webcast at ccaa.ca). But they share some distinct threads. McLester recruited most of this year’s team, stepping down as coach two years ago. Many of the other former Rattlers still visit and have played as alumni against the new crop.
“What I remember most was there were eight Saskatchewan girls, we were a mixture of new, old, everything and I remember us being so well-rounded,” says Landace McClughan, a Regina native who led the team in rebounding that year and remains in the top five all-time in the ACAC with 820. “We were a really cohesive team, we worked really well together.”
McClughan made quite an impression on now-ACAC rebounding record-holder and MVP Kennedy Werre.
“I remember Landace. She was in her fifth year when I was in Grade 12,” says Werre. “Her prescence, you’ll never forget her because she was that big body that boded up the court and grabbed rebounds. It was insane, she was amazing.”
Only 11-9 in the regular season, the 2008 Medicine Hat team featured the twin towers, sisters Cori and Mallory Jones, plus Alyssa Dunn and McClughan all able to play the post. Add sharpshooters like Rebecca Hartshorn and Jane Jacoby and it was an obvious inside-outside game on offence, while daring teams to shoot from beyond at the other end of the court.
“We wore down teams,” says McLester. “The Mount Royal game (a 68-54 win) was special. Mallory made the choice to come to us (from Mount Royal), she was almost a pariah to the Mount Royal girls.
“That was the calmest I’ve ever been down seven at the half. I knew we had to tweak one thing.”
Things didn’t go as smoothly at nationals. They lost their first two games before beating an unheralded host team for seventh place.
Asked what advice she’d give the 2018 group, McClughan said it’s not to let up now.
“With us, we were such the Cinderella story that we were all so excited to make it there, nobody expected it but I think we almost settled with it and didn’t succeed very well (at nationals),” says McClughan. “They’ve been on the national ranking list all year, so I hope they go in wanting to prove something and do really well.”
Regardless of how things go, going to nationals together is a tie that binds. McLester attended McClughan’s wedding a couple years ago. She still follows the team and has fond memories.
“The other day we were doing purging around the house. I’ve got all this Rattler gear still, I’m not ready to give up my stuff,” says McClughan.
“Those were huge events in my life, shaped who I am as an adult.”
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