Notre Dame's Achonwa, Utah's Plouffe among U.S. collegians named to Canadian Olympic Qualifying Team Tuesday
Notre Dame's Natalie Achonwa and Utah's Michelle Plouffe headline the roster of 12 current and former U.S. collegiate stars named to the Canadian Senior Women's National Team this week in Toronto.
“We are very excited about this group of athletes that we are taking to the Olympic Qualifier,” said returning Canadian head coach Allison McNeill. “It was a very difficult decision for the coaching staff as we had many excellent athletes in camp. When we got down to sixteen athletes, they were all capable in playing for Canada.”
The team is currently in training for the 2012 FIBA Olympic Qualifying Tournament to be held in Ankara, Turkey from June 25 through July 1, where they will compete for a berth at this summer's London Olympics in what would be Canada's first Olympic appearance since Sydney in 2000, where they finished in 10th place. Canada's best Olympic showing in women's basketball was its fourth-place finish in Los Angeles in 1984.
The Canadians finished in 12th place at the 2010 FIBA Women's World Championships in the Czech Republic, but earned an invitation to the Olympic Qualifying Tournament with their third-place finish at the FIBA Americas Tournament in Neiva, Colombia last summer.
The team will warm up this weekend in a pair of exhibition games against the British National Team in Edinburgh, Scotland, then move on to Lyon, France, from June 14-16 for an exhibition tournament in which they will face off against Croatia, the Czech Republic and France.
Currently ranked No. 11 in the world, the Canadians stand an excellent chance of progressing at least as far as the quarterfinals of the Olympic Qualifying Tournament. They kick off group play against 19th-ranked Mali, and though they will next face No. 8-ranked France in what is expected to be a fairly well-balanced match-up, the top two teams from the three-team preliminary-round group will advance to the quarterfinals.
A win in the quarterfinals would automatically punch Canada's ticket to the London Olympics. A quarterfinal loss would throw the Canadians into a consolation bracket where they would duke it out with the other three quarterfinal losers for the sole remaining Olympic berth.
Seasoned Canadian National Team veterans Teresa Gabrielle, a 5-5 guard, the team captain and a 14-year veteran of the national team; 6-2 forward Chelsea Aubry, an eight-year national team veteran who plays for Bendigo Spirit in the Australian professional league; and 6-1 forward Kim Smith, a University of Utah alum, former WNBA player and seven-year Canadian national team veteran, who divides her team training in Canada and the United States are all back to anchor the 2012 campaign.
Achonwa and Plouffe, both of whom have just finished their sophomore collegiate seasons, represent the opposite end of the experience spectrum. In fact, Achonwa was the youngest player to suit up for Canada when she was first named to her country's top squad in 2009, and had just finished high school when she appeared with Team Canada at the 2010 World Championships.
Last season at Notre Dame, Achonwa averaged 7.6 points and 4.4 rebounds per game with a .557 field goal percentage. Despite coming mostly off the bench for the Irish, Achonwa notched 10 double-figure scoring games, including a career-best 20 points at Creighton on Dec. 4, and a critical 18-point, seven-rebound performance in Notre Dame’s 80-49 win over No. 5 Maryland in the Elite Eight of the NCAA Tournament on March 27 in Raleigh, N.C. Her .561 field-goal percentage would rank as the sixth-best career shooting performance in school history, but she needs eight more field-goal attempts to qualify.
Plouffe, an honorable mention AP All-American last season, ranked among the top 10 in the Pac-12 in both scoring and rebounding. She led the Utes in scoring with 14.1 points per game and ranked second in rebounding (8.1 rbg) to front-court running mate and countrywoman Taryn Wicijowski, who was also invited to the Canadian National Team trials but failed to make the final cut.
Two other members of Team Canada -- Smith and Shona Thorburn -- also earned All-America honors as collegians at the University of Utah. All but one member of the team, Gabrielle, has played college ball in the NCAA. And indeed, even Gabrielle spent her college days at Simon Fraser University in British Columbia, which has been approved for provisional status in NCAA's Division II.
In addition to Utah's Wicijowski, Plouffe's sister, Marquette sophomore Katherine Plouffe (6-3 forward) and Syracuse University junior Kayla Alexander (6-4 forward) were also disappointed in their quest to earn a spot on the Canadian roster as head coach Allison McNeill faced the difficult task of culling the list of 25 elite Canadian players invited to participate in the trials down to a final roster of 12, plus four alternates.
Achonwa's appointment to the team is all the more impressive because she was unable to attend the National Team invitational trials last month due to her academic responsibilities at Notre Dame. She was able to join Team Canada, however, in time for the team's three-game exhibition series against the Chinese National Team from May 16-18. Achonwa came off the bench for a series-high 12 points in Canada's 78-66 opening-night win over the Chinese, who are ranked No. 7 in the world and have already cemented their Olympic berth.
Achonwa then added 10 points in Canada's 51-67 game-two loss (67-51) to China. However, after getting the starting nod for the final game of the series, a 45-37 win for Canada, Anchonwa suffered a minor upper body injury early on and was sidelined for the rest of the evening. According to a spokesman for Notre Dame, Achonwa has since been cleared to play and has resumed practicing.
Also making the national team roster despite being unable to participate in the trials is veteran Tamara Tatham, a 2007 University of Massachusetts grad, whose pro club Halle was still competing in playoffs in Germany at the time. Tatham joins her sister Alisha, also a UMass alum, on the squad.
Despite the relative youth of the Canadian team, most possess experience in senior-level international competition. Achonwa, for example, is one of nine players returning from the squad that represented Canada in the 2010 World Championships. Ten of the 12 players who competed in last summer's FIBA America's Tournament earned places on the 2012 squad announced this week.
2012 CANADIAN SENIOR WOMEN'S NATIONAL OLYMPIC QUALIFYING TEAM
|Name||Position||Height||Hometown||College||Pro Club (2011-12)|
|Natalie Achonwa||Forward||6-3||Guelph, ON||Notre Dame (NCAA) -- junior||N/A|
|Chelsea Aubry||Forward||6-2||Kitchener, ON||Nebraska (2007)||Bendigo Spirit (Australia)|
|Miranda Ayim||Forward||6-3||London, ON||Pepperdine (2010)||Istanbul University (Turkey)|
|Teresa Gabriele||Guard||5-5||Mission, BC||Simon Frasier Univ., British Columbia (2002)||Training in Canada|
|Lizanne Murphy||Forward||6-1||Beaconsfield, QC||Hofstra (2007)||Tarbes (France)|
|Krista Phillips||Forward||6-6||Saskatoon, SK||Michigan (2010)||Dandenong (Australia)|
|Courtnay Pilypaitis||Guard||6-1||Orleans, ON||Vermont (2010)||VICI Kaunas (Lithuania)|
|Michelle Plouffe||Forward||6-4||Edmonton, AB||Utah (NCAA) - sophomore||N/A|
|Kim Smith||Forward||6-1||Mission, BC||Utah (2006)||Utah (2006)/Training in Canada/USA|
|Alisha Tatham||Guard||5-11||Brampton, ON||Training in Canada||Training in Canada|
|Tamara Tatham||Forward||5-11||Brampton, ON||Utah (2006)||Halles (Germany)|
|Shona Thorburn||Guard||5-10||Hamilton, ON||Utah 2006 (NCAA)||Girona (Spain)|
|Janelle Bekkering||Guard||5-11||Taber, AB||Gonzaga (2011)||Lekdetec (Holland)|
|Krysten Boogard||Forward||6-5||Regina, SK||Kansas (2011)||Nice (France)|
|Megan Pinske||Guard||5-9||Coquitlam, BC||Western Washington (NCAA-Div II)||Saarlouis (Germany)|
|Kendel Ross||Forward||6-1||Sarnia, ON||Dayton (2010)||Training in USA|