Entering the U Sports men's Final 8 championship coming off a loss, again, is not a matter of concern for the Carleton Ravens.
Winners of the last three national titles, the Ravens come in as the third seed after falling 79-57 to the Ottawa Gee-Gees in the Ontario University Athletics title game. Carleton went into the 2022 Final 8 as the seventh seed — and with an at-large berth after falling to Queen’s in the OUA semifinals — and found their way to a record 16th title.
"Winning the OUA Championship is not the goal. The goal has always been for us winning the national championship," said Ravens head coach Taffe Charles. "It's unfortunate that we didn't play as well as we'd like (against Ottawa), but inevitably, you know, that's not our main goal.
"We're about getting to the nationals and having the chance to win a national championship, so it doesn't really matter where we're seeded. … You can't win the national championship if you're not in it. So not super concerned about where we are and how we got in there as long as we we’re there."
Carleton, which opens the Final 8 against RSEQ champion and sixth-seed UQAM Citadins, has won all of its national titles from 2003 onward, including stretches of five and seven straight championships.
Back-to-back Canada West champion Victoria Vikes at No. 1, Ottawa at No. 2, the AUS champion St. Francis Xavier X-Men at No. 4, the Queen’s Gaels at No. 5, Canada West finalist Winnipeg Wesmen at No. 7 and AUS finalist UPEI Panthers at No. 8 round out the competition.
The national tournament runs from Friday to Sunday in Halifax.
The Ravens dynasty began with former head coach and now director of basketball operations, Dave Smart. Before stepping down in 2019, he had won 14 national crowns and nine OUA championships in 20 years at the helm.
With Charles moving from the Ravens' women’s coaching job to the men’s, the standard and culture built on hard work hasn’t changed — and neither has the raising of championship banners.
The culture breeds confidence, says fourth-year guard Aiden Warnholtz.
"We know we're doing the right things to put ourselves in the best position possible to win," said the OUA first-team all-star. "When we get into these spots, it's just about all the times that we've been in the gym.
"We've really been through a lot together, on and off the court, to be able to build that trust in each other and that confidence that we can get things done when we stick together."
Carleton hasn’t been its usual dominant self in regular-season play this year, picking up four losses — including back-to-back defeats in January — casting doubt as to whether the Ravens can get it done this season.
"We've definitely kind of had people doubting whether we were going to make the nationals in the first place," Warnholtz said. "We had a young team and we've definitely had some struggles throughout the year.
"I think we've come a long way. … Having that adversity earlier in the season … (it) shows us the things that we need to do to get better. … Obviously when the goal is to win at the end, when we can do that, if we can do that, then the four losses or whatever it is kind of goes away, right?
" So again, we know how to deal with that adversity and so we're just going to try to use it and continue to grow as a team."
Charles says his squad will be ready when the moment arrives.
"We have a lot of confidence that with our experience, that we know what we need to do," he said.
"We know how what the level of play is. We know how we need to prepare. So we got a lot of confidence that we'll be as prepared as anybody, hopefully we can play well when it comes time."
This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 9, 2023.
Abdulhamid Ibrahim, The Canadian Press