By:  Liam Berti

President Kent MacDonald and SA President David Corson present the OCAA Championship Ball to Captains Samantha Lariviere, Trish Grey and Abeer Farhat.

An eruption of cheers and anxious emotions filled the Robert C. Gillett Student Commons on Tuesday afternoon as the Thunder women’s basketball team took their first step on their quest for national gold this weekend.

Students, staff and special guests rallied in honour of the team as they were given kind words of encouragement from Algonquin president Kent MacDonald and Students’ Association president David Corson before their official send off.

“Somehow the players have been able to balance all they have going on in their lives, while remaining academically successful and athletically successful,” said President MacDonald. “Now they are carrying the Algonquin torch at a national scale and it reflects a level of preeminence that, I think, goes beyond just athletics.”

This year’s trip to the national championships in Truro, N.S., marks the third consecutive year the Thunder have made an appearance in the prestigious tournament. After returning home with silver in 2011, the women will be looking to strike gold for the first time in school history.

The women head into the tournament boasting a perfect 13-0 regular season record and 3-0 record at the Ontario Collegiate Athletic Association provincial tournament two weeks ago. The Thunder are seeded fourth in this weekend’s national tournament and are scheduled to tip-off against the fifth-seeded Alberta College Athletic Conference champion Olds College Broncos in their first game.

After playing their first Canadian Collegiate Athletic Association basketball season, the Broncos have earned a trip to Truro after defeating Augustana 83-65 in the Alberta provincial championships. Second-year Broncos guard Jylisa Williams was also named ACAC player of the year after setting numerous single-season records in the division.

But despite the stiff competition, Algonquin staff and students attending the event displayed optimism for the departing Thunder.

“In my view, they’re peaking just at the right time,” said MacDonald. “I think that they’re in good shape heading out there and hopefully they will achieve their goal.”

The Thunder left for Truro immediately following the send off in hopes of getting comfortable away from home before the tournament starts. The team will attend a CCAA awards banquet on Wednesday before beginning their tournament run against the Broncos on Thursday at 1 p.m.

“That’s one thing we try not to do, is look too far ahead,” said Thunder head coach John MacInnis. “The formula is to really take it one game at a time. This will be our third national tournament, we’ve been through several provincial tournaments and this is the exact same format, so we like to get into our own little routine.”