MONTREAL, QC – When the Concordia Stingers (11-4) take the court on Feb. 26 against the visiting Bishop’s Gaiters (2-13), they will have a chance to accomplish what they wanted all along.
“We have a chance to be where we wanted to be at the beginning of the year and if we beat Bishop’s we will finish first and host the playoffs,” says Concordia head coach John Dore.
Stingers captain Decee Krah explains, “We’re just looking forward to ending the season right.” With a win, Concordia would enter the playoffs high in confidence after six straight wins and would be eager to please the home crowd.”
Despite playing in little Loyola gym, the home court advantage is very real for the Stingers. This season, Concordia has only one loss in seven home games, a 67-65 decision against the McGill Redmen on Jan. 21.
“At game-time, it’s a great place to play, because the crowd is into it,” says Krah. “It gets really loud.”
To finish first in the RSEQ would be a good surprise for a Concordia team that is still very similar to last season’s edition that plummeted to a sad 4-12. A big reason why the Stingers have a chance to return to excellence has been the play of Montreal native Kyle Desmarais.
“I like to think that I have (played) a decent role in that turnaround,” says Desmarais.
All he has done, after transferring from Central Connecticut State, is average a team-best 19.5 points per game while acting as the team’s starting point guard. “I needed to go somewhere where I was going to develop as a player better,” says Desmarais, who adds that when he came back to Montreal he knew Concordia was the right fit.
Head coach, John Dore is quick to praise the play of his newcomer. “We went into the season without a point guard,” he explains. “Kyle’s relished the opportunity and has done a great job for us… He’s had a major impact.”
Considering where his team finished over the years, Dore likes to think that last year’s results were but an odd exception. Krah agrees with his coach and says that the team’s poor record was more due to a young team still trying to figure out its identity due to losing “many leaders and senior guys.”
Numbers tend to agree with him. The Stingers have had only two losing records since the 2000-2001 season (2001-2002 and last year).
It is no stretch to say that Concordia has been a very good basketball program over the last decade and was going to rebound after a difficult last season.
Dore says that, “Over the years (Concordia’s) been one of the better teams in the country” and this year appears to be no different. Concordia depends a lot on the play of its two guards Desmarais and Krah, but it is not a one-trick pony.
Krah explains, “A lot of different guys with different roles have stepped up.”
Veteran forwards like fourth-year James Clark and Evens Laroche have had key contributions all year.
“James is really capable and is a talented offensive player,” says Dore. “Evens Laroche is absolutely one of the best athletes … (who) can really defend when he wants and this gives us a pretty good nucleus.”
To play in a league like the RSEQ that counts only 5 teams has its own set of challenges, believes Dore. For one, you play each team 4 times, leaving little room for secrets by the end of the year. Nonetheless, Dore is happy with the RSEQ which, he thinks, stacks up with any other CIS conference.
“Our league is very, very competitive this year, maybe the most competitive it’s ever been,” says Dore who adds that only Bishop’s has had a down year.
Desmarais believes that the RSEQ makes way for some great rivalries to flourish, especially in a season like this one where any team can beat any other. Case in point, Concordia has split its four games with both Laval (10-5) and McGill (9-6), who trail the Stingers in the standings; thet have managed to sweep the UQÀM Citadins (5-9) and hope for the same against the Gaiters.
Playing only 16 games compared to the 20+ games that other CIS teams play allows RSEQ teams to schedule many out-of-conference games each year.
This year, the Stingers entered tournaments and measured themselves against teams like the Laurentian Voyageurs (win, 66-54), the Wilfrid Laurier Golden Hawks (wins, 76-72 & 93-89) and the St. Francis Xavier X-Men (loss, 88-77).
Desmarais is confident in his teammates and says that, “When we play at our potential we can play with anybody in the country.”
Meanwhile, Krah says that the Stingers “fear no teams,” but is conscious there are many good ones in the CIS.
Both guards hope that before the year is over, they have the chance to prove themselves against heavyweights like the Carleton Ravens, UBC Thunderbirds or the Cape Breton Capers. This could happen only if the Stingers reach Halifax for the CIS Final 8 from March 11-13.
In turn, it would bring Concordia that much closer to the ultimate prize.
“Win a (RSEQ) championship and get into the Nationals,” says Krah. “That’s always the goal.”
Follow Charles Blouin-Gascon on Twitter @CeeeBG