It’s already been quite the summer for University of Saskatchewan women’s basketball coach Lisa Thomaidis and if all goes according to plan, it’s only going to get better.
The 2015 Pan American Games took place in Toronto from July 10 – 26 and Canada fared well, taking home 217 medals — 78 of them being gold — which put them in second place overall in the medal count.
The Pan Am Games occur every four years, only include summer sports and feature 14 countries from North America, South America, Central America and the Caribbean Islands.
One of the most notable gold-winning performances was that of the Canadian women’s basketball team as they knocked off the Americans by a score of 81–73 in the championship game. With Thomaidis at the helm, the team was well prepared and earned its first ever basketball gold, for men or women, at the Pan Am Games.
Thomaidis was thrilled with the way her team played, but knows the work isn’t over yet.
“I thought we played our best game against the U.S. and we still have more to improve on; we haven’t played our best game, so I think they’re pretty focused on that,” Thomaidis said. “They all know they’re capable of better, so they are very motivated and driven to get back at it.”
Following the win, the team was treated like local celebrities with huge crowds wanting autographs and pictures with the inaugural gold medal-winning basketball team. Media appearances were abundant the following day, but none of the women minded.
Player Lizanne Murphy, who has been with the team for eight years, summed it up perfectly.
“Playing for your country, winning at home with this crowd, it’s like no other feeling. We want everyone in Canada to know about us, get on board, to love basketball as much as we do,” Murphy told the Toronto Star.
The win is a monumental one for Canadian basketball as they have long been inferior to their American counterparts, but not this time around. In the men’s tournament, Canada upset Team USA in an overtime thriller before ultimately claiming the silver medal. Both teams were ecstatic about their performances in Toronto, but the real test will come later in August.
There is only one Olympic qualifying spot up for grabs at the FIBA Americas Championship, which is what the team has been working toward the past few years. With only one appearance at the Summer Olympics since 2000 — an eighth place finish in 2012 — the team is looking to build off of their historic win.
“We’ve talked about this for so long, that Pan Ams were going to be fantastic, but the most important tournament is the one coming up, so everyone is well aware of that,“ Thomaidis said. “The timing was great, having some time to celebrate the victory and be in the media eye and do the appearances and relish all that was the Pan Am gold, and then have the appropriate time to get back and focus.”
The Olympic qualifier will officially get under way on Aug. 9 in Edmonton, with 10 teams vying for the lone bid to the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. It’s a hectic schedule with Canada scheduled to play four games in five days to open the tournament. They will need to finish in the top two in their pool to advance to the playoffs, with the semifinals and finals set for Aug. 15 and 16, respectively. Canada will be in a tough pool with Chile, Cuba, Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic.
You can catch all of Team Canada’s games live on TSN when the tournament begins on Aug. 9. The men’s games will also be televised as they play in Mexico City, which gets underway in a few weeks time on Aug. 30.