Underdog Dawson- The Lady Blues

As the buzzer sounds, the ladies take to the court, one stops to wipe the bottom of her sneaker, which squeaks on the hardwood when put forward, then she takes her position. Standing along the sideline, with a tactic board in hand, is coach Trevor Williams, one of Montreal college basketball’s unsung heroes.

This is Williams’ tenth year as head coach for the Dawson College Lady Blues, but this time he’s hoping to take the team one step further. In the last two seasons, he’s turned around this once under-performing squad and made them into national contenders with a style that’s all his own.

Two girls square off at centre court, the referee hoists the ball into the air and the last big game of the 2010-11 regular season begins. Right away Dawson gains possession of the ball. They are facing off against the number one women’s college basketball team in the country, The Montmorency Nomades.

Montmorency College in Laval, Quebec is a basketball powerhouse and has been a contender for some time. Their winning record dates back to 1994 when they won a gold and have since dominated, winning another four gold, three silver and two bronze at the CCAA-Canadian College Athletic Association national championships over the last sixteen seasons.

For Dawson and Coach Williams, his beloved team had only won three games over two years, up until last season when the Cinderella-story Lady Blues took home bronze, making it the first national placing for the team since the 1985 and ’86 seasons when they won back-to-back gold medals.

The intensity between these two teams is felt from the first quarter of action. Williams sees this as a good sign, but paces nervously back-and-forth along the bench, shouting at the girls as they miss an easy basket, which the Nomades capitalize on, gaining the ball and converting at the other end.

“When I started coaching at Dawson. There’s been a rivalry between us and Momo [Montmorency],” Williams says. “We beat them in the semi-finals last year.”

By half-time, the Lady Blues are up by five points and are holding on to a fragile lead that may, at any time, be taken away by a Nomades scoring run, which put them within a few quick buckets.

“In the last couple of years, I haven’t been blessed with the most top-notched skilled players, so I have to use defensive style to create offence,” Williams says, when referring to his signature “40 minutes of Hell” defensive strategy.

“I’m a defensive-type coach. A lot of people say offence wins games because you’ve got to outscore the opponent, but I believe defence mentally breaks down the opponent. Then you’ll put them in a psychological situation where they don’t think they can beat you.”

But this is the end of regular season and the Nomades are a well-oiled machine, one that’s waiting to pounce at any missed Lady Blues opportunity. This game is proving to be much more challenging and by the end of the third quarter the Lady Blues are barely holding on to their lead, while their defence is the only thing keeping them alive at this point.

Williams looks calm and composed, even though his mind is probably racing, analyzing his team’s play, like any coach would do when they’re having a less-than-spectacular game. In the fourth quarter, the Lady Blues are brought to a screeching halt as the Nomades tie the score at 64 with five minutes left on the clock. Their time may be up.

Quebec colleges dominate in women’s basketball, having only been shut out of the national medal categories once back in 2004, when no school from the province placed in the finals. This stiff competition is what drove Williams to rebuild the Dawson women’s program over the last few years, focusing on recruitment during his local summer basketball camp.

“I would say it’s a lot harder than people think it is. I had to surround myself with some talent because when I first came on the scene the other schools had all the talent and I had to find a way to get a few girls to Dawson,” he says.

Williams was able to attract a fierce player known by her teammates and fans as “Red.” Standing at five feet eleven inches, Marylise Roy is one of his most talented players. As point guard, she’s been able to lead the Lady Blues to a spectacular season, losing only to two teams, Vanier College’s Lady Cheetahs and tonight’s opposing force, the Nomades.

“She’s one of the girls I recruited. She’s been offered a full scholarship by five or six schools.”

For someone who’s played competitive basketball for many years at different levels and once a Dawson College Blue point guard himself, Williams has a deep passion for the game, which keeps him at the helm of the Lady Blues program, looking at his job, not as coaching, but as character building.

“We’re trying to market the game. There’s not a lot of high fliers, playing over the rim. It’s more of a fundamental-type game. Basketball is basketball to me,” he says. “I can watch a girl for two minutes on the basketball court and I can tell what kind of personality she has, so I use that for strength and try to develop her weakness.”

Named CCAA’s 2010 Women’s Basketball Coach of the Year, Williams feels this achievement is a testament to his on-going commitment to the Lady Blues, win or lose. And tonight, after a heated match that went right down to the wire, they fall by three points to the Nomades 72-69.

While the girls are visibly shaken from this close call. They leave the court with their heads held high and Williams leaves with words that resonate.

“I think we didn’t stick to our game plan. We were supposed to be all over the ball, and hopefully that would translate into some points for us. We didn’t really do well with our game plan. It was a learning experience for us.”

The Lady Blues may not have finished off the season strong, beating one of their biggest rivals, but at least they stayed classy. According to Williams, there’s always the post-season to prove their worth. The RSEQ- Reseau du sport etudiant du Quebec provincial championships will take place the first week of March at Dawson College, so the Lady Blues will have home court advantage. And any coach pursuing provincial and national hoops glory would love the underdog status Dawson has acquired.

“For the last two years, we weren’t picked to win. This year we weren’t picked to win. I think the teams that were picked are nervous to play against us because of our style,” he says. “Offense may win some games, but defense wins championships.”

Adam Bemma is a journalist, humanitarian, and media consultant based in Chiang Mai, Thailand.

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