After qualifying for their third straight Olympics, the Canadian senior women’s national team has their sights set firmly on the podium in Tokyo and are relying on a mix of veterans and youth to get them there.
“Our team identity is dynamic, relentless and together, and that’s the team that I expect is going to show up, and how you can expect us to play,” said head coach Lisa Thomaidis. “The players we’ve amassed will certainly exude that team identity and again our team vision is to win a medal at the Tokyo Olympics, so we’re firmly grounded in that vision.”
WNBA players Bridget Carleton, Kia Nurse will be joining the team after missing the Women’s AmeriCup due to overlapping schedules with their pro teams, and Natalie Achonwa, who is currently rehabbing a medial collateral ligament sprain she suffered on June 13, is expected to play according to Thomaidis.
Nurse said she has been trying to keep up with team meetings as much as possible, maintaining contact with everyone, watching the team at the AmeriCup in Puerto Rico and studying the playbook to prepare for the Olympics away from the team while they’re in training camp in Tampa.
“The cool thing about this sport is basketball is basketball, not a lot of things change no matter what system you’re in. There’s probably a few habits here or there that we may have to change in terms of offensive and defensive execution that are different,” said Nurse. “But at the same time, we’ve been doing this for a long time…you got to dribble, pass and shoot. It’s not that hard.”
A host of NCAA players were named to the team after impressive showings at the Women’s AmeriCup earlier this month. The first Canadian woman to dunk in a game, South Carolina Gamecock Laeticia Amihere, led the team with 22 points in a double-overtime loss to Brazil, Arizona Wildcat Shaina Pellington was the lead guard off the bench averaging 12 points a game, and Connecticut Huskie Aaliyah Edwards who held her own against the veteran bigs in the tournament will be called on again in Tokyo.
Nurse says she hopes to help guide the young players as someone who’s been in their shoes before, playing at UConn during the 2016 Olympics.
“I’ll do the best I can to help them with whatever questions or concerns they have around this,” said Nurse. “I’ll use as much of my experience as much to help out these young guys. I know what it feels like to be in their position.
“There’s going to be a great comfort level with them, obviously they’ve been playing their butts off, there’s a reason they’re on this team and I’m excited to see them continue to grow and I know that they’re going to play a role help this team try to get to the podium in Tokyo.”
The team will also be boosted by the return of Team Captain Kim Gaucher to the line-up. Gaucher was initially asked to choose between breastfeeding her three-month-old baby daughter Sophie or attending the Olympics as the International Olympic Committee (IOC) did not permit anyone but athletes to travel to the games. This morning the IOC reversed track and will allow all breastfeeding mothers to travel with their children.
Gaucher, who admits to not being much of a social media person, said she found out the good news from her husband Ben, who found out from a member of his family.
“Obviously, really happy, a little bit overwhelmed by all the news, and now just trying to process it all and take the next steps, but incredibly happy and very thankful for all of the people who fought for this and helped me out with this,” said Gaucher who averaged seven points and six rebounds at the 2016 Olympics.
Gaucher, along with the rest of the veterans has built the Canadian women’s team into the fourth-ranked program in the world and after qualifying for three straight Olympics and other world championships Nurse says they’re now looking to move beyond just qualifying and bring home a medal.
“As the program continues to evolve…you want to continue to get better and the next step for us is getting on to that podium, and I think that’s something we have our eyes set on,” said Nurse.
“We’re a high-level team, we play basketball at a really high rate…we have the people to do it, I think now we just have to put in action.”
Photo Courtesy Canada Basketball