The Brandon University Bobcats men’s basketball team has been practising for a week and a half already, and head coach Gil Cheung likes what he sees from his squad.
Cheung was hoping his players would return to the Wheat City hungry after a disappointing 6-16 season last year that resulted in Brandon missing the Canada West conference playoffs for the fifth straight year. That seems to be the case so far.
“Conditioning, they’re better than I thought they would be running-wise,” he said. “I’m really happy with the level of competitiveness out there. We lost a lot of leadership, a lot of fifth-year seniors last year. The toughness and the way we’re competing right now is the best thing we’re seeing right now in camp.”
Gone this year due to graduation are forwards Jordan Reaves, Isaiah James and James Elias as well as guard Emerick Ravier. In addition to their leadership, those four combined for 29.9 points and 18.2 rebounds per game. Isaak Stark, a Brandonite who redshirted last season, and 6-foot-6 guard Turell Scott also won’t be back this year.
The Bobcats will be small this season, but Cheung hopes they will be a competitive group. They’ll get their first chance to prove how good they can be on Sept. 26 when they visit the Lakehead Thunderwolves for a pair of exhibition games in Thunder Bay, Ont. Brandon will then host Algoma and Acadia Universities at the Healthy Living Centre from Oct. 9-11 before Dakota College comes to town from Oct. 17-18 for Homecoming Weekend.
Inductions into the Bobcat Wall of Fame will take place that weekend, and three of BU’s national championship basketball teams are among the inductees.
“We’re looking forward to it,” Cheung said. “Those were some great teams and a great group of guys. … It’s a special time to get into any Hall of Fame, especially here at Brandon University with the success we’ve had. Will we get back there? Hopefully one day, but I think they want to show some of the old guys that this year’s team is pretty good as well.”
The Bobcats open the regular season Oct. 31 when they host the Lethbridge Pronghorns.
The other three BU teams begin their training camps in the next few days, with the women’s volleyball team starting today, the men’s volleyball squad on Monday and the women’s basketball team on Tuesday. Walk-ons are allowed to try out next week.
Hopes are high for the women’s volleyball team after finishing second in Canada West with a 17-5 mark last season before falling in the first round of the playoffs to the UBC Okanagan Heat. Getting swept in the best-of-three series left a bitter taste in the players’ mouths and head coach Lee Carter can’t wait to bring everyone together again to create a better feeling.
“I’m pumped,” he said. “Our girls are pretty competitive and that left a pretty sour taste. I’m sure it drove a lot of them to train harder and be better this year.”
The Bobcats lost three players from last season, including starting setter Kellie Baker and middle Lexi Loewen, both of whom exhausted their CIS eligibility and are joining Carter’s coaching staff, as well as reserve left side Brianna Walsh. Crocus Plains graduate Mary Thomson, now in her third year, is expected to replace Baker at setter, while Carter is looking forward to players battling to start at middle and for the outside hitting spots.
The women’s volleyball team opens its pre-season with a tournament in Edmonton from Sept. 18-22. The regular season begins on Oct. 10 when the Bobcats visit the Mount Royal Cougars.
Brandon’s men’s volleyball team is also targetting a trip to nationals this season as the Bobcats return an experienced lineup.
Dan Boutwell, a middle who captained the team last year, is the only starter not returning after graduating from BU. He is staying with the team as one of the assistants to head coach Grant Wilson. Backup left sides Conan Mickey, a Vincent Massey Viking alumnus, and Scott Vercaigne have also left the team. Meanwhile, Brandon-born right side Daryl McCharles will red-shirt this season.
BU had an up-and-down regular season last year but secured the final playoff spot with a 10-12 mark before upsetting the UBC Thunderbirds in the quarter-finals. Brandon then lost both matches at the conference final four, and Wilson is looking to improve on that finish.
“Definitely looking forward to getting back in the gym,” Wilson said. “It’s one of those things this time of year that you just look forward to getting back into a routine and the grind of the season. I think everybody’s excited to get back and get back at ’er.”
The Bobcats open the pre-season when they host a tournament from Sept. 26-28. Their season opener takes place in Calgary against Mount Royal on Oct. 10, and the team will have an enjoyable Christmas break when it heads down to Florida for a tournament.
Meanwhile, the BU women’s basketball team officially begins training camp on Tuesday, but many players have been practising for a while. Head coach Novell Thomas organized practices every second week in Brandon during the summer, with most of the players from Manitoba and Saskatchewan participating. He worked to implement his offensive system and plans to focus on defence during camp.
The Bobcats had their most successful season since joining Canada West last season, posting a 6-16 mark, and Thomas is looking to improve on that.
“I’m hoping to double that win total, to be honest,” he said. “Like I said, there’s a lot of work to do in order to get to double digits. We’ll have to be pretty solid once conference play rolls around.”
The Bobcats will have to do it without their leading scorer from last season, Cassie Cooke. Cooke, who averaged 23.6 points and 3.6 steals in 36.9 minutes of court time last season, left the school before the winter semester ended. Caitlin Lennon, a rookie who appeared in a pair of games last year, and Brittany Boudreau, who didn’t play last year while recovering from an torn ACL, also won’t be back.
The Bobcats begin the pre-season on Oct. 3 when they host a three-day tournament that will feature the Manitoba Bisons, Winnipeg Wesmen and Regina Cougars. The regular season begins Oct. 31 when they host the Pronghorns.
BU’s soccer teams will hold tryouts for their inaugural season in the Manitoba Colleges Athletic Conference next week as well. Tryouts for the women’s team will be held at Earl Oxford School on Thursday from 4 to 6 p.m., while the men’s team tryout is slated for Friday at Earl Oxford from 6 to 8 p.m.