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Holly MacKenzie

PREVIEW: Canada ready to tip off FIBA Olympic Pre-Qualifying Tournament

Medellín, Colombia (Nov. 8, 2023) - Get ready for a big week of basketball for Canada’s Senior Women’s National Team as they continue their quest to qualify for Paris 2024.

What: FIBA Olympic Pre-Qualifying Tournament

When: Canada will face Venezuela on Thursday, Nov. 9 at 5:30 p.m. ET/2:30 P.M. PT, followed by host team Colombia on Friday, Nov. 10 at 8 p.m. ET/5 p.m. PT, and close out tournament action against Puerto Rico on Sunday, Nov. 12 at 4 p.m. ET/1 p.m. PT.

Where: Coliseo Ivan de Bedout, Medellín, Colombia

Why the Senior Women’s National Team is in Medellín, Colombia: After finishing 3rd in the FIBA Women’s AmeriCup 2023 in Leon, Mexico, the Canadian Women’s Senior National Team is beginning their quest to qualify for the 2024 Summer Olympics by competing in an Olympic Pre-Qualifying Tournament in Colombia against Puerto Rico (4th place AmeriCup finish), Colombia (5th place AmeriCup finish) and Venezuela (6th place AmeriCup finish). Canada begins this event ranked 5th in the most recent FIBA World Ranking presented by NIKE, while Puerto Rico is currently ranked 12th, Colombia is ranked 30th and Venezuela is ranked 42nd.

Each team will face the other three teams round-robin style in Colombia, with the teams who finish in first and second place earning their ticket to the FIBA Women’s Olympic Qualifying Tournament that will take place inFebruary 2024. There will be 16 teams advancing to the Qualifying Tournament, where they will compete for 10 tickets to the Paris 2024 Olympics.

Things to know heading into the Olympic Pre-Qualifying Tournament:

- Entering on a high: Canada arrives at the Olympic Pre-Qualifying Tournament after capturing a bronze medal at the FIBA AmeriCup 2023 by defeating Puerto Rico 80-73 in the bronze-medal game behind a 13-point, 19-rebound double-double from Kayla Alexander, 19 points from Nirra Fields and 15 points from Shay Colley. Canada dominated at the AmeriCup, finishing with a 6-1 record, as their lone loss coming in a 67-63 nailbiter to the United States in the event semifinals. Canada’s bronze medal at the AmeriCup was the team’s seventh in the last eight editions of the event, dating back to 2009.

- Red and white: Canada’s roster in Colombia features a mix of veterans and young players. Team Captain Natalie Achonwa is making her return from maternity leave and will be joined by fellow WNBAers Laeticia Amihere, Bridget Carleton and Kia Nurse. Team Canada will also feature veterans Kayla Alexander, Shay Colley, Quinn Dornstauder, Nirra Fields, Sami Hill and Aislinn Konig. The roster will be rounded out by Cassandre Prosper and Syla Swords, who both made their Senior Women’s National Team debuts at the AmeriCup in León, Mexico.

- Face time > FaceTime: Prior to flying to Colombia, members of the Senior Women’s National Team held a mini-training camp in Toronto before flying to Miami to join the entire team in a four-day training camp. With players scattered all over the globe playing for their respective teams when they aren’t getting together for a FIBA window, any opportunity for face time on the court, as opposed to catching up via FaceTime on their phones, is an opportunity the players jump on.

“Just getting to see one another, being around one another and hanging out is always the best part about it,” Kia Nurse said. “One of the things I love about the women’s side of Canada’s Basketball is there’s been such a level of commitment for a number of years. Me and Nat have played together now for 11 years. Being able to have that understanding of one another is great, but to have some of the youth that we have [on the roster] is really fun.”

As Nurse shared the court with Syla Swords this past week, she was reminded that Swords had suited up for Kia Nurse Elite, Nurse’s EYBL team, before making her way through the Canada Basketball ranks to join the Senior Women’s team this year.

“It’s funny,” Nurse said. “It’s kind of weird. Syla has played for Kia Nurse Elite. Aaliyah Edwards, Toby Fournier [have also played for Kia Nurse Elite]. Sometimes in camp they’ll be  saying something and they’ll say ‘Kia Nurse’, and I’ll be like, ‘Did you call me?’ and they’ll say, ‘No, we’re talking about one of your players,” Nurse said with a laugh.

- An anticipated return: While the time together is valued by everyone, no one was more appreciative to be back than Team Captain Natalie Achonwa who welcomed her son, Maverick, this past spring. Achonwa will be making her return to the court with Canada in Colombia after sitting out this past season with the WNBA's Minnesota Lynx during her maternity leave. Achonwa couldn't keep the smile off of her face as she talked about the team preparing for the Olympic Pre-Qualifying Tournament.

“It’s truly magical,” Achonwa said of the team’s mini-camp. “To be able to put on a Canada jersey again, and knowing after taking this year off that all of my teammates, our federation, and everyone is still supporting me has been amazing.

“I’m [feeling] great,” Achonwa continued. “It’s amazing to be back on the court. To be able to bring my son along, too, is something special. One of my major goals as a parent is to shower my son with experiences and to know that one of those experiences is to be with some of the greatest women I’ve ever met in my life, it’s invaluable for him.”

- Where to watch: Fans can catch all of the action streaming live on FIBA’s YouTube Channel.