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UPEI women rally to win U Sports bronze over Laval

The University of Prince Edward Island are women’s bronze medallists.

UPEI Women Rally To Win U Sports Bronze Over Laval
UPEI Women Rally To Win U Sports Bronze Over Laval

They stood side-by-side at centre court with U Sports bronze medals around their necks, and neither Reese Baxendale nor her backcourt partner Jenna Mae Ellsworth could stop smiling.

If you told them a few months ago they would be standing here, with a top-three finish in the University of Prince Edward Island (UPEI)’s first national championship tourney in 22 years, they might not have believed you.

But down the stretch they were difference-makers as the sixth-seeded Panthers charged back from a 10-point deficit to defeat the Laval Rouge et Or 57-50 today in Ottawa.

Baxendale hit two huge three-pointers and Ellsworth made clutch free throws down the stretch and Laval faltered on offence and couldn’t put the game away.

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“It’s not that we get comfortable being down, we just never give up,” said Panthers head coach Matt Gamblin.

“We talk a lot about being resilient throughout a game, through the ups and downs, and that’s what this group has done for the last three to four weeks — just toughness.”

UPEI jumped out to an early lead in the first quarter and led 14-12 at the break, but Laval charged back in the second, thanks in large part to the play of U Sports Defensive Player of the Year Khaleann Caron-Goudreau.

The Rouge et Or led 28-22 at halftime and held the lead in an evenly-played third quarter. But UPEI dominated the final frame on offence, outscoring Laval 24-9 and staging the latest in a series of playoff comebacks.

Baxendale had 17 points, seven rebounds and two assists. Ellsworth had 24 points, nine rebounds, four assists and two steals.

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“We’re best friends off and on the court,” said Baxendale. “I think that we just trust each other so much, and it translates on the court.

“So I know if I’m throwing a ball up to her, she’s catching it. And if she passes me the ball, I’m going to make it for her. We have each other’s backs for everything.”

UPEI’s late-game rally was a natural product of that trust.

“I think feed off each other’s energy, for sure,” said Ellsworth. “She hits a big shot, I’m just as excited as she is — I hit a big shot, she’s just as excited as I am.

“We feed off each other. We feed off every single teammate.”

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UPEI’s formidable backcourt is likely to return for one more season together, with Ellsworth as a fifth-year senior. Baxendale has two years of eligibility left.

“The next goal is to win a gold medal,” said Ellsworth.

“You’ve just got to keep getting better, and whatever you can do, and work hard every day.”

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