Saturday, June 15, 2024

HIGH ACHIEVERS: Carleton women’s basketball head coach Dani Sinclair has plenty of reasons to celebrate

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By Martin Cleary

This has been a year of unparalleled celebration for Carleton University Ravens women’s basketball head coach Dani Sinclair.

She has experienced the tingling joy of winning team titles at the national and international levels.

Her achievements as a former athlete and now as a coach also have earned her humbling individual honours from her hometown and her province.

Sinclair, who is about to enter her fourth year with the Ravens women’s basketball program, is calm now, after an unprecedented period of achievement over the past three months.

Let’s roll back the calendar to review her list of honours.

In March, Sinclair guided the Ravens to their second consecutive OUA conference and U Sports national women’s basketball championships.

Based on their success at the U Sports nationals, Carleton was offered an opportunity to represent Canada at the FISU America women’s 3×3 basketball championship in Cipolletti, Argentina. Ranked sixth among the six university teams from North, South and Central America, Sinclair directed the four-player Ravens team to the gold medal on May 12 and a berth in the FISU University World Cup Nov. 22-24 in Xiamen, China.

After a 30-hour trip back to Ottawa, Sinclair made her way to her hometown, where she was inducted into the Guelph Sports Hall of Fame on May 15.

If she could have been in two places at one time on May 15, she also would have been in Niagara-on-the-Lake to receive the women’s coach-of-the-year award at the OUA Honours banquet. Her award was accepted by members of the Carleton delegation.

As busy as it was, Sinclair enjoyed every minute of Carleton’s first women’s 3×3 tournament, being honoured by her hometown hall and winning the conference coaching award.

(From left) Michelle Abella, Jacqueline Urban, Teresa Donato, Dorcas Buisa, Kyana-Jade Poulin and Dani Sinclair. Photo: FIBA America

“It was a long trip home, but we celebrated when we were there,” Sinclair said about winning the America 3×3 championship. “I was tired going to Guelph and I’m a bit tired now, but it’s a good tired.

“I was remiss not being there (OUA Honours banquet). We went to Guelph and I brought one of my children. We stayed for the long weekend and relaxed with family.”

Sinclair entered the Guelph Sports Hall of Fame as an athlete and a builder. She was a national champion fastball player coached by Dave Vallance, who nominated her for the hall after he was inducted in 2023, as well as a top-notch basketball player at McMaster University and the University of Victoria. As a builder, she coached Victoria before replacing Taffe Charles as head coach of the Carleton women’s team in 2020.

“It was surprising,” said the mother of three boys ages 13, 11 and 8 about her entry in the hall of fame. “It’s not something going into the job that you think about. You do it because you love it. I joked I’m not old enough to get these sorts of things.

“It was most special, being back in Guelph. I’ve never forgotten the people who helped me. It was a great experience growing up there.”

Sinclair also thanked her community basketball coach Coleen Driscoll for her direction and encouragement.

At about the same time she was being inducted into the Guelph Sports Hall of Fame, she was being honoured as the OUA women’s coach of the year in Niagara-on-the-Lake for leading the Ravens to conference and national basketball titles in 2024 and 2023.

“When you win an individual award, it’s the culmination of years and years of work that lead to that moment. I lucked out in terms of the people (around me),” Sinclair continued.

“Again, it’s special to see where this program has gotten to. I’ve said it a million times. Four years ago, I walked into a program that was well established and jumped on the shoulders of Taffe and (assistant coach) Michelle Abella, who have helped me, along with Dean Petridis, who has been with us for five years.

“I’m obviously honoured, but there are many, many people who are part of that award.”

Kyana-Jade Poulin. Photo: FIBA America

But before Sinclair entered the individual award spotlight, she was in Argentina for the America 3×3 championship, which forced the players and coaches to learn some significant rules about the game.

The games run for 10 minutes or until a team scores 21 points (two points for a basket beyond the arc, one point anywhere else and one point for a free throw). It’s a fast-paced game with a 12-second shot clock and coaches cannot speak when the game is in progress.

Carleton posted one win and one loss in the round-robin portion, but was undefeated in its three playoff games. The gold-medal game went into overtime and Jacqueline Urban of Ancaster, ON., scored the winning basket in a 19-18 win over defending champion ITESM Monterrey from Mexico.

The Ravens trailed by three points in the final minute before Dorcas Buisa of Gatineau and Urban connected on crucial shots to earn the championship.

The Ravens’ balanced offence, which also included Ottawa’s Teresa Donato and Montreal’s Kyana-Jade Poulin, turned back ITESM Toluca of Mexico, in the semifinals.

“All of our training was on our own,” said Sinclair, who entered the tournament without any exhibition games. “In the spring and summer, we do quite a bit of 3×3, but not with those rules and the games are shorter with no time clock. We didn’t have a lot of time to prepare.”

In late March, U Sports offered Carleton the opportunity to represent Canada at the America 3×3 tournament. Sinclair accepted as it was a chance to play against teams from outside of Canada.

“We looked at the pros and the cons. We said to ourselves there are downsides, but the upsides outweigh the downsides. The chance to play international ball is great and some of the players hadn’t travelled outside of Canada,” Sinclair explained.

As the players caught on to the nuances of the game as the tournament progressed, Sinclair and Abella had to adjust to being quiet on the bench.

“It was a bit of an adjustment. In 5×5 basketball, we have a big voice in the moment,” Sinclair added. “All that (coaching) has to be done ahead of time.

“It was really great to see the leadership of the players, when they were tasked with the coaching responsibilities.”

Sinclair selected the team based on player availability, who was returning for the 2024-25 season and who was capable of getting the job done.

Martin Cleary has written about amateur sports for 51 years. A past Canadian sportswriter of the year and Ottawa Sports Awards Lifetime Achievement in Sport Media honouree, Martin retired from full-time work at the Ottawa Citizen in 2012, but continued to write a bi-weekly “High Achievers” column for the Citizen/Sun.

When the pandemic struck, Martin created the High Achievers “Stay-Safe Edition” to provide some positive news during tough times, via his Twitter account at first and now here at OttawaSportsPages.ca.

Martin can be reached by e-mail at martincleary51@gmail.com and on Twitter @martincleary.


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