They may have a shiny new facility in the Healthy Living Centre, but it won’t be the site of any playoff action for the Brandon University Bobcats this season.
For the second straight year, the Bobcats men’s volleyball team was the only BU team to qualify for the post-season and will open the first round of the playoffs on the road tonight in Saskatoon against the Saskatchewan Huskies. It’s not exactly been a banner year for the Bobcats, but athletic director Russ Paddock isn’t about to clean house.
“I don’t know if it’s disappointing,” Paddock said. “Surely, we thought we might have had two teams in the post-season for sure. The men’s basketball team has had considerable injuries … and combine that with a really tough start to the season with very few home games in the first half really (and that) made it challenging for them. And women’s volleyball, they are still a fairly young group overall and they showed flashes of strong play and they will be looking to build on that for next year.”
For the record, the Bobcats men’s basketball team (5-15), which will close out the season at BU this weekend versus the Regina Cougars (6-14), has now missed the playoffs for four straight years, the first time that has happened in more than 40 years since before coach Jerry Hemmings began his tenure here. Hemmings, who will celebrate his 65th birthday on Sunday, led BU to four national titles, but the flagship program of Bobcats athletics is a shadow of what it once was.
To be sure, the absence of two of BU’s best players in forward Ali-Mounir Benabdelhak (broken collarbone) and guard Emerick Ravier (knee) played a big part in their losing record. But the bottom line is coach Gil Cheung — 16-48 in his three-year tenure — needs to show significant progress next season with seven players set to enter their fourth and fifth seasons of CIS eligibility. Despite playing without Benabdelhak and Ravier, the Bobcats did show what they are capable of when they upset the 12-8 Calgary Dinos 74-68 on Saturday night, offering hope for the future.(It’s interesting to note that former Bobcat Mike Raimbault — who led BU to a 20-2 record as interim coach in 2007-08 before getting passed over for the job in favour of Keith Vassell — has led the Winnipeg Wesmen into the playoffs this year with a 14-8 record.)
Turning to volleyball, BU coach Lee Carter’s women’s team went 8-14 to miss the playoffs for the second straight year, albeit in a rebuilding season with a team that featured only two fourth-year players and no fifth-year players. However, they will have seven players entering their third, fourth and fifth years in 2013-14 and expectations should be significantly higher.
As for the Bobcats women’s basketball team (0-20), they are poised to go winless for the third straight season and haven’t won a Canada West game since Feb. 5, 2010. Their progress under head coach Novell Thomas — a former national team player — has been largely limited to moral victories, with their closest effort a 62-61 overtime loss to the Manitoba Bisons. Statistically, BU has shown some progress, scoring five more points per game (43.0) and allowing 10 less per game (71.7) this season. But despite his national and international connections, Novell failed to recruit a single impact scorer to help build around. However, with eight first- and second-year players on the rebuilt roster, we’ll give him the benefit of the doubt in his rookie season.
“Obviously he is as frustrated as anyone that they haven’t been able to win a few games,” Paddock said. “But it’s not a one-year process to come in and turn that program around.”
Which brings us back to BU’s men’s volleyball team, currently the most successful Bobcats program with six straight trips to the playoffs and national silver and bronze medals to their credit over those six seasons. The eighth-ranked Bobcats — 13-9 under interim head coach Grant Wilson — will try to upset the sixth-ranked Huskies this weekend and earn a trip to the Canada West final four where one win in two matches would earn them a spot in nationals again. They will have to do it all on the road, but they’ve done that before.
“In our best season ever, we won on the road,” Paddock said. “The top six, seven teams, are close enough that anything can happen in a weekend, so we are hoping we can have a good series with Saskatchewan.”
ODDS AND ENDS: The Brandon Wheat Kings’ faint flicker of hope to make the playoffs has been all but snuffed, now 15 points back with only 14 games remaining. Any combination of Lethbridge wins and Brandon regulation losses totalling seven would ensure the Wheat Kings could not catch the eighth-place Hurricanes. If the Hurricanes (and the teams ahead of them in the standings) continue at their current pace, the Wheat Kings would have to go 14-0 just to tie for the last playoff spot.
The silver lining for fans is the Wheat Kings (20-34-2-2) are now on pace to finish with the third-worst record in the league, which would get them into the WHL draft lottery and a chance to pick first overall in a deep draft topped by record-breaking blue-chip bantam prospects like Tyler Benson ... Canadian Olympic women’s hockey gold medallists Cassie Campbell-Pascall and Sami Jo Small will be in Brandon Monday for the second annual Scotiabank Girls HockeyFest Manitoba at Westman Place. More than 100 female hockey players between the ages of seven and 12 will take part in the daylong clinic ... Speaking of women’s hockey, defenceman Regan Boulton of Brandon — captain of the NCAA’s Quinnipiac Bobcats — was honoured on Senior Day on Sunday when she moved into second place in all-time team scoring with 75 points in 130 games …Meanwhile, former Westman Wildcats captain Brittany Phillips of Lauder became the sixth player in Colgate women’s hockey history to hit 50 goals and 100 career points. She’ll be honoured on Senior Day on Saturday … Brandon’s Cassie Hawrysh and Russell’s Jon Montgomery are in Sochi, Russia — site of the 2014 Winter Olympics — this week for the ninth and final stop on the World Cup skeleton tour. You can watch Montgomery, 33, in today’s men’s skeleton race (3 p.m., Sportsnet, tape delay), while Hawrysh, 28, races on Saturday (7 p.m., Sportsnet, tape delay).