WINNIPEG – It’s been a dream season for the Winnipeg Wesmen women’s basketball team.
Going 18-2 in the regular season, winning their first playoff series since 2009 and getting to the Canada West Final Four for the first time in a decade would have been enough.
But now more accolades are being heaped on a pair of individuals. Point guard Antoinette Miller has been named league MVP and Defensive Player of the Year while longtime coach Tanya McKay took home Coach of the Year honours.
“I will say it’s very humbling, but I will credit my program, my great coaching staff, and my players,” McKay said. “Without them, we aren’t where we are. We’ve had a lot of kids contribute at different times, my staff has been wonderful, it’s a real credit to the program.”
Arguably the biggest reason for their turnaround from an 8-12 finish a year ago is the addition of Miller. A transfer from Phoenix, she played a year at Saskatchewan before heading to the States.
Now that she’s back in Canada, she’s made an immediate impact, averaging 18.7 points per game and tallying 76 assists, both good for tops in the Canada West.
“I’m just playing out there. It means a lot and I’m glad I’m being recognized, but I’m just out there playing my game. I didn’t realize it was going to be this big.”
McKay says she knew Miller was going to be a difference maker the first time she saw Miller play.
“When she played for Saskatchewan, they came here for two games. In the first game we beat them and Ant didn’t play much. The coaches and I talked after and said, ‘if that kid gets on the floor, she’s going to change the dynamics of their team and they’re going to beat us.’ Sure enough, the next night she played a ton and really hurt our defense and we didn’t win that game.”
McKay has coached the Wesmen for over two decades, and has led teams to four CIS medals but none of them gold, and has yet to coach a team to a Canada West title. She has reason to believe that this year’s unit could buck that trend.
“This has been a pretty special group, having three fifth years [Megan Noonan, Kerri Kuzbyt and Taylor Thorkelsson] who have been committed and loyal to our program and given everything they have. We have no rookies this year, all returning players, and then you add Ant. It’s just elevated our play, and it’s made for a very exciting season.”
Winnipeg takes on Regina in the Final Four in Saskatoon (ironically, the same place Miller started her career). The two teams split their season series a month ago, and if Winnipeg can win the game they’ll lock up a spot at Nationals in Victoria. Miller is confident they can get it done.
“I just felt like they wanted it more than us, the game that we lost. But the second game we won. They’re a good team, but I think we’re better.”
Miller says she came to Winnipeg with something to prove, feeling that she could play her game in a way she couldn’t at Saskatchewan. Now, in the biggest game of their lives, Miller has one more chance to play her game and carry the team to a place they haven’t been in a long time.