OTTAWA — The top-seeded Saskatchewan Huskies women's basketball team heads into this week's national championship loaded with talent and big expectations.
The Huskies have appeared in the Final 8 a dozen times in the last 13 years, but have won the title just once.
Still, that lone win came after a season almost exactly like the one that just ended.
The Huskies finished the regular season with an 18-2 record, tying their program's record for fewest losses in a season from 2016. That's the year they went on to defeat the Ryerson Rams for the Huskies' first and only national title.
However, Saskatchewan was seeded second in 2016.
The Huskies, led by Canadian national women's team coach Lisa Thomaidis and six-foot-two forward Summer Masikewich, were ranked No. 1 in Canada for all but one week during the regular season.
Carleton Ravens coach Brian Cheng, whose team faces the Huskies in a quarterfinal Thursday, says Saskatchewan is "probably the most talented team" in the field.
But Cheng said no team is unbeateable.
"This tournament is wide open," said Cheng. "I do think Saskatchewan is the favourite but in this field I wouldn't be surprised if there are upsets along the way."
The eighth-seeded Ravens and Huskies square off in the final quarterfinal at TD Place Arena.
The No. 3 Rams open against the No. 6 Prince Edward Island Panthers, the No. 2 Brock Badgers face the No. 7 Calgary Dinos and the No. 4 Laval Rouge et Or face the No. 5 Alberta Pandas in the other quarterfinals.
Cheng's Ravens earned the automatic host spot as Carleton and the University of Ottawa teamed up to jointly host the men's and women's basketball championships this week. It is the first time the men and women are playing for the national titles in the same place.
Cheng said he has been keeping the automatic berth in mind all season, trying to ensure his team wasn't complacent.
"We earn it by how hard we practise and how hard we prepare," he said.
While the men's championship has been hosted in Ottawa six times, this is the first time the women have had the chance to play in a championship at home. The TD Place Arena at Ottawa's Lansdowne Park is just blocks away from Carleton.
"Basically playing on our home court obviously has its advantages," third-year Ravens guard Madison Reid said.
Cheng is the interim head coach for Carleton after long-time head coach Taffe Charles moved to the wildly successful Ravens men's program this year. The Ravens men have become a basketball dynasty, winning 14 titles since 2003.
The Carleton women's team has one victory, in 2018. They were among four first-time winners over the last four championships, with Saskatchewan in 2016, McGill in 2017, Carleton in 2018 and McMaster last year.
McMaster is not in the tournament this year, after losing in the Ontario University Athletics quarterfinals.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 4, 2020.
Mia Rabson, The Canadian Press