COLIN CORNEAU/BRANDON SUN
Brandon University Bobcats women’s basketball coach Novell Thomas gathers his players at Thursday’s practice at the HLC.
This is the second year of rebuilding the Brandon University Bobcats women’s basketball program for head coach Novell Thomas and things are looking up for the squad.
Former all-Canadian Cassie Cooke brings experience and scoring ability to the Bobcats’ lineup. (COLIN CORNEAU/BRANDON SUN)
The Bobcats lost more than half their roster from last season — including their top three scorers in Carrera Lamoreaux, Chantel Gaslard and Brandonite Aimee Johnston — but the second-year head coach has brought in eight new players, including a pair of American imports — third-year point guard Aleah Bridges and third-year shooting guard Cassie Cooke, a former all-Canadian — to bolster the ranks.
Bringing in veterans like them, as well as seeing improvements in returning players like Kaela Cranston, Jaynell Gillett and Stephanie Haynes, has Thomas thinking Brandon can be a lot more competitive this season.
"It’s a matter of making sure we’re prepared and we have a game plan and making sure we execute on the game plan," said Thomas, whose team opens the Canada West season against the visiting Victoria Vikes at the Healthy Living Centre today at 6 p.m. "If we do that, without question, we’ll have some wins."
The Bobcats have not won a game in the past three seasons and have dropped their last 67 conference contests. However, the team is on the upswing after posting a 6-4 exhibition record that included victories over the Manitoba Bisons and Lakehead Thunderwolves, the first time the Bobcats have beaten a CIS opponent in three years.
Thomas liked the way his team played in its own end last season and hopes that trend continues this season. However, it’s when the Bobcats are on offence that he hopes to see the most improvement.
Brandon averaged a league-low 42.1 points per game last season and turned the ball over more than any other team. The improved backcourt play has helped decrease the number of turnovers in exhibition play, but the Bobcats know they will need a lot more people to hit shots.
"We really want to hold teams defensively anyway, but I think everyone (scoring) across the board is what we really need," said Cooke, who led the team in scoring in most of Brandon’s pre-season games. "We need to be consistently scoring 65 points, if not 70-plus to beat teams in Canada West because they’re all a lot larger than us, but I don’t think they’re faster than us.
"Our transition is definitely something we want to focus on and finishing is going to be the biggest part of transition."
Brandon will start the season relying a lot more on perimeter shooting from the likes of Bridges, Cooke and Cranston. The forwards — Gillett, Ambrea McDonald-Okoro and new recruits Amy Williams, Brandon’s Stephanie Hunter and Boissevain’s Kinsley Ransom — will need to step up as the season goes on.
While the Bobcats feel this season will be a lot better than the past three, they face major tests right off the bat. Five of Brandon’s first six games of the season are against teams ranked in the top 11 in the country. Victoria is the only team that isn’t.
Of Brandon’s 10 games before the Christmas break, nine of them are against squads ranked in the top eight in the Canada West pre-season coaches poll. The 12th-ranked Mount Royals Cougars are the only team rated in the bottom half of the league that the Bobcats — ranked 15th in the conference, ahead of the University of Okanagan Heat — will face in the first semester.
Thomas is torn as to whether tough competition to start the season will be beneficial, but he wants to see his players take advantage of it.
"I don’t know if that’s good or bad to get them all up front," he said. "We won’t get another ranked opponent until the end of January, early February. It’s a good chance for us to gauge where we’re at to play against experienced teams and they’re good tests. We’re in the business of learning and these are great opportunities to learn."
While some people believe getting one win this season would be a big accomplishment for the Bobcats, that’s not how they’re looking at it.
Thomas has an unrevealed number of wins in his head that he thinks is attainable and Cooke scoffed when she was told four, which hasn’t been done in 10 years, would be a good number.
"Somebody said to me maybe four games, but that’s not our bar," Cooke said. "Our bar is to win as many games as possible and at the least make the playoffs."
No. Name Position Year Height Hometown
1 Caitlin Lennon G 1 5-7 Winnipeg
2 Aleah Bridges G 3 5-3 Berkeley, Calif.
5 Kaela Cranston G 3 5-11 Winnipeg
6 Ambrea McDonald-Okoro F 2 5-10 Regina
7 Brittany Boudreau G 2 5-7 Winnipeg
8 Stephanie Haynes G 3 5-7 Lorette
9 Shonté Devernichuk G 1 5-9 Vancouver
10 Kinsley Ransom F 1 5-11 Boissevain
11 Stephanie Hunter F 1 6-2 Brandon
12 Keegan Robinson G 1 5-9 Hamiota
13 Amy Williams F 1 6-1 Moose Jaw, Sask.
14 Cassie Cooke G 3 5-8 Westminster, Md.
15 Jaynell Gillett F 5 6-2 Bonnyville, Alta.
Head coach: Novell Thomas (second season)
Assistant coaches: Sarah Lopes, Marc Plante, Russell Luce
Republished from the Brandon Sun print edition November 1, 2013