TORONTO — All eyes will once again be on the Humber Hawks this season in the OCAA and on the national level throughout the CCAA.
The Hawks have won the OCAA Championships in each of the last four seasons, asserting themselves as the dominant team in the league. They have turned that into a pair of national championships, snagging the first in 2016 before adding another last season. Humber’s three wins in three days at the CCAA Championships were the closest games that they played all season long, with two of the wins being decided by seven points or less.
In between their CCAA championships, Humber picked up a bronze medal in 2017.
Fast forward to the upcoming season, and the target remains squarely on the backs of the Hawks as they look to cut down the nets once again in 2018-19. Head coach Ajay Sharma and his staff have turned the Hawks into a model of consistency in the OCAA in recent years, but they will be tasked with replacing a three-time CCAA Player of the Year after her graduation after last season.
Replacing a player like Ceejay Nofuente is not an easy task, and will likely take a by-committee approach to do so. However, the Hawks have enough talent back to make yet another run at the national title in 2018-19.
As a team last season, the Hawks rolled over their opponents on a nightly basis. They averaged over 93 points per game on the offensive end of the floor, and they shot 44% from the floor as a team. Humber topped the 90-point mark 16 times against OCAA opponents, and they topped the 100-point mark on seven of those occasions.
Back on January 19th, the Hawks picked up a 99-point win over the Lambton College Lions, 125-26.
No, that is not a typo.
Humber was no slouch on the defensive end, either. They held opponents to 50 points or fewer on 13 occasions over the course of the regular season and into the post-season. Their ability to score, seemingly at will at times, while keeping their opponents in check was a sight to behold.
In their non-conference schedule, the Hawks took on teams from the OUA and the NJCAA in the United States. They lost just three games over that stretch, going a combined 8-3 in 11 non-conference games. Humber took part in the Daytona State Holiday Classic at the end of December, and they split their two games in Florida.
Their win in the event came against the 16th-ranked team in the NJCAA, the Chipola College Indians, 70-65.
Leading the charge all season long was Nofuente, a player who certainly left her mark on the OCAA and CCAA over her five-year career. The 2017-18 season was no different, as she picked up her third OCAA Player of the Year and third CCAA Player of the Year awards.
This past year, the native of Toronto, ON flirted with a quadruple-double average to close out her career. The 5’8” guard averaged 17.4 points, 8.4 rebounds, 7.0 assists, and 7.5 steals per game, while shooting 50.2% from the field and 76.3% from the free throw line. Nofuente had eight games with 20+ points, and was held to single digits just once over the course of the year.
Fellow fifth-year star Aleena Domingo had herself an impressive season to close out her career. Domingo averaged a double-double of 16.4 points and 10.3 rebounds per game last season. Domingo started 15 of the Hawks’ 20 games against OCAA opponents up front. The small forward also racked up over two steals and two assists per game.
The departure of Nofuente leaves some big shoes to fill. One of the best players to ever wear a Humber jersey will be tough to replace, without question. As the season moves along, it will be interesting to see which players step up and take on a leading role with the Hawks to forge their own path and carve their own legacy, much like Nofuente.
While the Hawks have yet to release their roster for the 2018-19 season, one can speculate as to who could be the top candidates to lead Humber on their quest for their third national championship in four seasons. On the surface, the likes of third-year forward Miea Campbell-Johnson and fourth-year guard Jahnae Gyles look to be the top candidates from an offensive standpoint.
Gyles was the third of three players to average double-digit points per game last season, posting 12.2 points despite playing under 17 minutes per contest. Gyles made just three starts over 20 games last season, but will be a regular fixture in the lineup in 2018-19. She had an assist-to-turnover ratio of 1.6:1 last season, while also racking up 1.6 steals per game on the defensive end. Gyles took care of the ball on offense, while her defense kept opponents off the scoreboard.
Up front, the departure of Domingo could lead to a big year from Campbell-Johnson. Her 5.0 rebounds per game last season were good for the third-highest mark on the team, behind Nofuente and Domingo, and Campbell-Johnson will surely see that number rise this season as the focal point of the front court. She made 13 stars last season, but that number will surely increase, much like Gyles. Both look like regulars in the starting five for coach Sharma this season.
Campbell-Johnson also added 8.7 points per game on offense last season, shooting just shy of 50% from the floor in the process (49.4%).
Point guard Felicia Velasquez should also be back in the mix for the Hawks this season. She averaged 5.9 assists per game last season, second on the team behind Nofuente.
Despite their personnel losses from last year’s team, the Hawks still have a ton of talent back in the mix for the 2018-19 season. The opportunity is there for players to step into bigger roles and make a name for themselves over the course of the year. The Hawks won’t look to one or two players to help fill the void left by Nofuente and Domingo, but rather use a team effort to guide them over the course of the season.
The Hawks will look to continue their recent streak of dominance in the OCAA, and turn that into yet another CCAA national title when all is said and done.
– T. Bennett