Unable to play basketball, Ridgebacks bonding off the court

Ontario Tech women's basketball head coach Christa Eniojukan giving her team advice during a time out against the Ottawa GeeGees on Nov. 8, 2019. Photo credit: Shaun McLeod

The Ontario Tech Ridgebacks women’s basketball team isn’t going to be playing basketball this season due to COVID-19, but that hasn’t stopped them from growing together through the last few months.

“We’re not just teammates, we’re also friends,” said second-year guard Bilan Khadar.

They’re not just friends either – they’re housemates. – with four players living in one townhouse, and another five living in a house just a short distance down the road.

“If we’re just bored in the house we’ll just go to the other people’s house since we don’t really talk to other people,” says Khadar. “They come over and play Wii, or play Jenga or UNO.”

Khadar says the team gels because they’re all “open but shy people”, and their personalities “just click”.

This team chemistry is on full display on the first episode of their new podcast “Beyond the Ridgebacks” which introduces the team, talks about life as a student-athlete and living with each other.

The podcast was an idea put together by the Ridgebacks’ leadership council of Hadeza Ismaila, Katherine Onunkwo, Sara Esongola “Eso” Biango and Alyssa Carin – who edits the podcast before release.

“The second episode is going to be about the frenchies,” said Khadar, referring to the team’s five players from Quebec who live down the street. “Since we’ve done our first household, now it’s like ‘how is it going over there?’”

This type of team chemistry has always been a goal for the team’s head coach, Christa Eniojukan, who organized frequent team-building events last year and during the rise of the Black Lives Matter movement this year, had the team read the book STAMPED: Racism, Antiracism and You by Ibram X. Kendi to help them communicate their emotions.

“There’s power in being educated,” said Eniojukan. “I felt like it was a very emotional time, so I had to be very transparent and open with them about that, and give them an opportunity to voice how they were doing and how they were feeling,”

Khadar says Eniojukan has had a strong impact on them during this time.

“On Zoom calls we’re very open, if we’re feeling sad about it, we can openly have a conversation,” said Khadar.

That was just one of many things that Eniojukan did to keep the team engaged throughout the lockdown and pandemic filled summer.

“Connecting with the team in person was obviously challenging,” says Eniojukan. “But we were connected virtually a lot. In some regards even more than we would’ve been.”

Eniojukan organized Zoom workouts for the team and challenges to be together through the pandemic which led to “almost daily” check-ins.

“It was good because it’s like we were all doing the workouts together, and it pushes us more, ” says second-year guard Bilan Khadar. “Otherwise doing it alone is kind of boring.”

On Oct. 15, Ontario University Athletics announced they were sounding the final buzzer on sports on campus for the upcoming winter semester – which means basketball will not be returning until at least April.

“Despite feeling the disappointment of not being able to play league games, we are committed to continuing to push and grow both on and off the court during these times,” said Eniojukan.

The Ridgebacks are still practising and getting strength and conditioning, making sure they’re ready for whenever they see the court again.

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