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Queen's Gaels player Julia Chadwick in an undated handout photo.James Paddle Grant/The Canadian Press

The Queen’s Gaels look to take another big step in earning their place among the elite of U Sports women’s basketball.

Queen’s enters the Final 8 championship as the third seed after they posted a 21-1 regular season before a loss to the Carleton Ravens in the Ontario University Athletics title game last Saturday. The Gaels hosted last season’s nationals and earned a bronze medal as the seventh seed.

“Last year we believed that we belonged at nationals and then obviously with our performance we proved that we belong there,” said Gaels head coach Claire Meadows. “And so I think that gave us a lot of motivation and a lot of confidence moving forward into this season to obviously get back to the tournament and be able to carry on the season that we’ve had so far.

“Hosting nationals last year was really eye-opening [in] that we’re a team that can participate and compete at that level, and so I think the approach to this year was to really work toward that goal and being in the OUA finals,” added OUA first-team all-star forward Julia Chadwick.

The top-ranked Ravens, who finished the regular season 19-3 before claiming their first OUA title since 2018, have been the lone team to hand the Gaels a loss this year.

Carleton defeated Queen’s 64-32 in regular-season action on Jan. 27 and then 70-57 to claim the Critelli Cup.

Queen’s, which opens the tournament Thursday against sixth-seeded RSEQ champion UQAM Citadins, feels ready and prepared for the road ahead in Sydney, N.S.

“Nothing changes in terms of how we approach the game and our preparation. It’s another game within this season,” said Meadows who was named OUA coach of the year on March 1. “I think when you get to this point in the season, every team is competitive. Every team is very good.

“Every team has won big games to get to where we are now, so we know that Thursday and onward, the competition is going to be tough. We’ve played in some big games, we’ve played in some close games, so we feel like we’re prepared for this moment and obviously, especially having been at nationals last year, that’s a good preparation for us as well.”

Canada West champion Alberta Pandas at No. 2, AUS champion Saint Mary’s Huskies at No. 4, the Calgary Dinos at No. 5, the Acadia Axewomen at No. 7 and host Cape Breton Capers at No. 8 round out the tournament.

The Final 8 runs from Thursday to Sunday.

Chadwick, who averaged 16.4 points and a conference-best 12 rebounds per game this year, is one of six Gaels players in their fifth and final season, but she says that doesn’t place a burden on her team.

“I don’t really think that there’s any pressure,” the Ottawa native said. “I feel like we really want to do it for one another, but I don’t think there is any pressure to do it.

“It would be amazing to do it, but even being here is amazing.”

The message for the younger players from the veterans has a similar tune to it.

“The message that we try to send is this is just an opportunity, and we can be really grateful to be here because a lot of other teams, their seasons are over,” Chadwick said.

“So just enjoy every moment of this and hopefully this experience will inspire them to continue working toward qualifying for these tournaments at the end of each year they have.”

After a successful season to date, Chadwick is ready to leave it all out there in her final go-round.

“I’m just really excited. This is fun,” she said. “If you asked me at the start of September, this would be a goal that I was hoping our team could achieve.

“Now that we’re here, mostly just to enjoy and compete and give it my all.”

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