The women’s Hawks scratched and clawed their way to another National Championship.
The team defeated Quebec’s Dawson College 68-61 Saturday night to claim its second consecutive CCAA women’s national championship at Mount Allison University in Sackville, N.B.
That makes them a perfect 26-0 this season. But it wasn’t as easy for them as the numbers might suggest.
“They were really tested in this tournament,” said Humber sports information coordinator Brian Lepp.
The Hawks entered the Nationals by blowing out the competition in the OCAA this season, winning by an average of 35 points per game. But when faced with opponents from across the country, the team had to fight and claw back from deficits.
“But you’d never know it,” Lepp said. The team played the same way they did throughout the season, they weren’t rattled, they dug in and got it done, he said.
“This is a testament to the coaching staff and the mental toughness of the players,” Lepp said.
While it’s the second National Championship in a row for the Hawks, no other OCAA women’s team has ever captured a National title.
This is also the second year in a row the Hawks had a perfect season under head coach Ajay Sharma.
The Hawks led by their star senior players Ceejay Nofuente and Aleena Domingo defeated Mount Saint Vincent University, Nomades de Montmorency, and Dawson to capture the national title.
Nofuente, named tournament MVP for the second year in a row, was huge throughout the tournament for the Hawks, most dramatically in the first game.
The guard hit the game winner in the dying seconds of the opening round game against MSVU, a game they struggled in and barely eked out a win.
“Nerves were definitely a part of it,” Sharma said.
“That opening round struggle was good for the team,” he said. “The fact that it was a tough win gave us the belief we could get through the rest of the tournament.”
“They tied it up late, we went to our best player and she won it for us,” Sharma said.
Humber ran a play with seven seconds left specifically for Nofuente. Expecting a double team that never came, Nofuente got the one-on-one matchup she wanted, hit her spot and put up the shot with less than a second remaining.
Assistant coach Kingsley Hudson was celebrating before the shot even went in, Lepp said.
“He knew it was going in because Nofuente had made that shot over him about a hundred times in practice,” he said.
In the championship game, however, the Hawks stars took over.
Nofuente combined with dominant power forward Aleena Domingo, scored 21 and 22 points respectfully, to lift the number one ranked Hawks over Dawson, the number two team in the tournament, in a hard-fought back-and-forth battle last Saturday.
Sharma said it is all about the preparation. Coaches created a competitive atmosphere every day where every mistake in practice is amplified. It’s that tough atmosphere in practice that prepares the players for the big games.
“If you see them practice you’d know. Practice is so competitive and so intense. Yet they are still a team and want to see each other succeed,” Lepp said.
“This team is truly something special,” he said.
“When we get to the national championships the players are mentally prepared and it is just another game for us,” Sharma said.
Next season will be a different looking Hawks team. The Hawks star players Nofuente and Domingo will have graduated and moved on. In particular, Nofuente is joining the National team for the Commonwealth Games in Australia in April.
This leaves a void in the program for the Hawks, but Sharma is not worried.
He said the college has a great group and have built something special. It will be on the remaining players to step up and shoulder the load left by Nofuente and Domingo, he said.
“We’ve got six impactful players returning here, who will be ready to contribute,” said Humber’s Athletic Director Ray Chateau.
While the loss of Nofuente and Domingo stings, Sharma says their leadership over the past few seasons left the rest of the team’s players in a great place. The returning women know what they need to do in order for the program to continue to be successful, he said.