The Carleton Ravens men’s basketball program holds a dynasty that no other team in North American varsity sports — neither Canada’s USports nor the American NCAA — has ever seen: 10 of the last 11 national titles, including the 2022 championship.
However, after a few shaky games mid-schedule in 2022-23 season, questions have arisen about whether the defending national champions can continue their dominance. The Ravens host the Laurier Golden Hawks tonight at the Ravens’ Nest (8 p.m. start) after the Waterloo team defeated the University of Toronto Varsity Blues 77-74 in their opening playoff match.
The Ravens reclaimed the No.1 ranking in USports with two late-season wins after briefly dropping to third for the first time since February 2016. Carleton ended the regular season with a seven-game winning streak — capping their push back to national No. 1 with a 73-65 win over the Lakehead Thunderwolves on Feb. 18 while also securing top spot in the OUA East.
‘The number one spot is not going to mean much if we don’t get ourselves in a good place in the playoffs and obviously perform when we need to.’— Taffe Charles, head coach, Carleton Ravens men’s basketball team
Aiden Warnholtz, a veteran guard and the team’s points leader said the “youthful” Ravens of 2022-23 had a demanding season.
“We have a lot of young, talented guys who have had to learn to play university basketball, so it has been a bit of a challenge for everybody,” said Warnholtz.
The 15-member team features seven rookies and eight returning players.
The Ravens dynasty over the years — and the team’s success this season — can be attributed to the leadership and guidance of veterans who set high expectations when they enter the locker room.
“Me, Connor (Vreeken), Elliot (Bailey) and Grant (Shephard); us guys have been a part of teams that have won nationals multiple times,” said Warnholtz, adding that their role as veterans is partly “just understanding what it takes to do that and trying to preach that to these younger guys.”
Though youthful, the team finished the 2022-23 regular season campaign impressively with a 17-4 won-lost record to lead the OUA East division and lead the national rankings heading into the playoffs, which culminate with the Final 8 national tournament March 10-12 in Halifax.
The Ravens started this season with a four-game win streak before falling to Queen’s University 76-62 in mid-November. Three games later, the team lost 80-68 to the Brock, but immediately rebounded with five straight wins.
More trouble arose in January with back-to-back losses against the University of Toronto (56-64) and Toronto Metropolitan University (86-80), dropping the Ravens to third in USport rankings for the first time in seven years.
The team’s persevered, though, notching a massive comeback win against Queen’s on Jan. 27 (103-89) before an impressive Capital Hoops victory over uOttawa on Feb. 3 (67-61) that also marked the Ravens’ remarkable 300th consecutive week in the USports Top 10.
Since the 2002-03 season, only three other teams besides Carleton have had the opportunity to hoist the W.P. McGee Trophy for the national title. There has only been one other team (the Calgary Dinos in 2018) to win the championship since 2011.
The team’s talent pool is not limited to the court. Head coach Taffe Charles played for the Ravens from 1990-95 and has been involved in the coaching roster with both the men’s and women’s programs since the 1995/96 season.
Charles served 12 seasons as assistant coach and 16 seasons as head coach — primarily with the women’s program — and has been the men’s head coach for the past four seasons.
He has a win-loss record of 374-148 including games from the regular season, OUA playoffs, and USports championships.
“At the end of the day it’s about winning games at the right time,” said Charles. “Queen’s is doing well, we beat them. Ottawa is doing well, we beat them. But again, we still have a long way to go. I mean the number one spot is not going to mean much if we don’t get ourselves in a good place in the playoffs and obviously perform when we need to.”
Charles describes this year’s team as “unique” and explains that the squad is still a work in progress. But there is still time to grow and get better, he said.
“The reality of the situation is based on those banners up there,” he added. “That is our relentless test right there.”
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