Though path to medal goal dealt massive blow, Canada remains steadfast

Canada's Natalie Achonwa during a game with the national team in 2019. (Jason Franson /CP)

TORONTO – The Canadian women’s national team suffered a potentially massive blow to their medal chances at the Tokyo Olympic Games later this summer when word came Monday evening from the Minnesota Lynx that star forward Natalie Achonwa suffered an MCL sprain in her right knee and that she would be out indefinitely.

Achonwa isn’t with the senior women’s national team at the FIBA Women’s AmeriCup right now as she’s attending to her WNBA duties with the Lynx, but it was all but a foregone conclusion that she would be with Team Canada in Tokyo. Now her status is up in the air.

“Really sad to hear about Nat getting injured, she’s an integral part to our team and I think right now we’re waiting to get all the medical information that we need to make a decision,” said Team Canada head coach Lisa Thomaidis after her team defeated Colombia Tuesday, 74-40.

Yet another blowout victory for Canada, Tuesday’s victory improved the team to a perfect 4-0 record and a first-place finish in Group A as group play at the AmeriCup concluded. Next up for Canada will be a quarter-final matchup with the Dominican Republic on Thursday.

Canada impressively finished a run of four games in four days cruising in all its games with the exception of a tightly-contested game with Brazil on Sunday.

But even though the result ended up as elementary for the Canadians, this long run of consecutive games appeared to take its toll on the team as Canada struggled to start the game, going 1-for-10 from the field before finally breaking out of its slump with just about five minutes to play in the first quarter with a Jamie Scott triple.

From there, Canada got its act together and eventually ran away with a victory, finishing the game shooting 43.3 per cent shooting from the floor and a 6-of-17 mark from three-point range.

“There’s so many things we’re trying to address and I thought tonight we probably had some of the best movement on offence that we’ve had, getting a little bit deeper and sharing the ball. That was a real positive,” said Thomaidis of her team’s performance Tuesday. “I think our defence is still a real work in progress and that’s coming along. Communication is getting there, we’re still working at getting back to our Canadian standard but I think each game we’re growing a bit so that’s good to see.”

As has been noted many times before, before the AmeriCup its in the midst of, this Canadian team hasn’t played with each other in 16 months and while picking up wins is always important, this is a team that’s more treating this tournament as a chance to shake off rust and get its sea legs underneath them.

Therefore, while four games in four days may seem insane, there’s actually a lot of benefit to it for Canada.

“I think it’s very good,” said Canadian guard Shay Colley of the four-game stretch her team just finished. “[We] get some competition against other teams instead of ourselves and to just work on what we need to for more games to come in the next round. Just trying to really focus on our style of play and gel together as a team.”

The more time in actual competitive situations for this Canadian side, the better, and with the knockout stage of the AmeriCup next up, the higher stakes should only help to accelerate the development and growth the entire team believes it needs in advance of Tokyo.

After all, this is a team with high expectations for itself.

“If you’re asking how motivated we are to medal: highly motivated,” said Thomaidis. “It’s been on our radar for a couple of years now, a number of years as we’ve continued to climb the international rankings.

“The last time we played at the Olympic qualifier we had some real positive results, I thought we had some great momentum that had been generated up ‘til then and now we’re just trying to get back into that groove. We were playing some real good basketball at that point in time, team-first basketball. We have to hang our hat on that, how we share the ball and how we create great shots.

“Our eyes are on that podium and we’re doing everything we can in this time frame to get us in a situation where we can compete for that medal. Our team has publicly stated that and that’s been at the forefront of our minds the last number of months that we’ve been preparing virtually. Now that we’re finally together, it’s been a lot fun to see the growth.”

The AmeriCup is just a convenient stepping stone on Canada’s path towards the podium in Tokyo. That goal now, with word of Achonwa’s injury and her uncertain status, appears to have become more difficult, but the goal for the Canadian women’s national team will remain steadfast.

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