Ritchie Jacobson isn't completely starting from scratch, but rebuilding the Brandon University Bobcats women's basketball team is clearly a work in progress.
However, the Bobcats' new head coach believes he landed a solid building block this week with the commitment of 6-foot American post Kate Helgeson, who played the past two years with the Dakota College-Bottineau LadyJacks and averaged 7.5 points and 7.3 rebounds per game last season.
"She actually was a key cog on that team, she averaged 35 minutes a night as a starting post and is a real quality kid," Jacobson said. "So we're real excited to find someone like that this late in the year."
Jacobson, 46, was named the Bobcats' interim head coach for the 2011-12 Canada West conference season exactly one month ago following the late resignation of Jaime Taggart, whose team won just six of 90 CIS games over her five-year tenure and went 0-24 last season. Jacobson came on board to finish last season as head coach when Taggart took a medical leave of absence, but many of the players on that squad will not be back.
The Bobcats graduated fifth-year guards Sarah Lopes and Katie Van de Sype and have also lost fourth-year guard Kelsey Solarchuk, who has transferred to the University of Winnipeg. In addition, 6-foot-2 post player Nicisha Johnson leads a long list of players not returning that includes key veteran Amanda Fortin, Chelsey Hiebert, Christen McLeod and Brandon native Stephanie Lacey-Avon.
The good news is one of the heart and soul players in the program will be back this fall as fifth-year forward Jayla Bousquet returns for her final season after earning a medical red-shirt following a knee injury that wiped out last season.
"She will be our captain and we're real excited to have Jayla back," Jacobson said.
Bousquet joins a team that features a little depth up front in third-year forwards Chantel Gaslard and Jaynell Gillett and second-year forward Alanna Johnston of Brandon, as well as promising sophomore shooting guard Madison Bradbury.
"(Bradbury) did have a very good season and she probably logged as many minutes since I came on board as anyone else," Jacobson said. "She is a really quick kid and she has worked really hard on her game this summer to improve her skills and we're excited to see where she's at."
Another confirmed recruit is 6-foot-1 post Aimee Johnston of the Vincent Massey Vikings high school program, who joins her sister Alanna on the Bobcats squad.
"She is a diamond in the rough," Jacobson said. "She is a legit CIS recruit, 6-1, has really good hands and can run the floor and I think she can play multiple positions. She loves to compete ... I am really excited to have Aimee on board."
Jacobson is also still trying to land another import player, a couple of girls out of Winnipeg and possibly a guard out of Toronto before training camp begins in the second week of September. However, competing in the always-tough Canada West conference will be a challenge for a young team in rebuilding mode.
"We're not expecting miracles," said Jacobson, who has added former Bobcats men's team player Tom Price to his coaching staff. "It's just more a case of laying a foundation of fitness and fundamentals, getting in the gym and working hard and wanting to compete night in, night out ...
"We still have some irons in the fire. And in the meantime, we will work hard with the kids we have and if we can land some of these recruits, there is some legitimate CIS talent there ... It will just take time."