Brandonite Stephanie Lacey-Avon should provide the Bobcats with an outside threat. (FILE PHOTO)
Perhaps the basketball gods just don't have a very high opinion of Jaime Taggart.
After all, you have to empathize with the fifth-year head coach of the Brandon University Bobcats women's team, considering the recent rash of (bad) luck she and her team have been dealt.
Already heading into the season without the services of the player who has led them in scoring over the course of the past four seasons, the Bobcats learned this week that the player who is second in scoring in that four-year period -- and their top point producer each of the past two seasons -- would be lost for the year with torn knee ligaments.
But these beat-up Bobcats will go forward nonetheless with their Canada West conference season opener this weekend at home against the Thompson Rivers Wolfpack.
THE ISSUES: Melanie Thompson, who averaged 10.5 points per game over her four seasons as a Bobcat, chose not to return to the team, while Jayla Bousquet (9.9 ppg in four years) tore up her anterior cruciate ligament and is done for the season. Now add in injuries to junior post Nicisha Johnson, who is banged up and questionable for this weekend, and fifth-year transfer Katie Van De Sype, who is battling the after-effects of a concussion, and you wonder where on earth the Bobcats are going to get their points from. Van De Sype, an all-star at last year's college nationals when she was with UBC-Okanagan, was expected to pick up some of the scoring slack and she still could very well do that. The5-foot-7 guard could provide the Bobcats with an option in the backcourt to stretch out defences, something they've seemingly been searching for every season.
Junior guard Stephanie Lacey-Avon matured in increased minutes last season and, although she only hit on 20 per cent of her threes last season, can be counted on to increase that number in Year 3. Fifth-year guard Sarah Lopes will once again run the point, although she too will be unavailable this weekend as she attends her sister Jennifer's wedding. Lopes is the only Bobcat on the active roster who has spent four years in Brandon and at a critical position she has to be an on-court leader in guiding what is now a fairly young backcourt.
THE OUTLOOK: Once again the Bobcats stand to be at their best in the frontcourt with the 6-foot-2 Johnson joined by team rookie of the year Chantal Gaslard, a 6-foot-2 sophomore who showed well as a freshman, averaging 5.6 points and 3.6 rebounds per game. Johnson has struggled with foul trouble in the past and needs to be better in that aspect, but the Bobcats do have some depth here with Gaslard and 6-foot-1 recruit Jaynell Gillett also there to soak up minutes. The heart of the team lies in 5-foot-11 fourth-year guard/forward Amanda Fortin. The Saskatoon product has battled significant injuries over her time in Brandon, but has been as resilient as they come.
Heading into the season there was already going to be a question mark about where the Bobcats would get their offence from, and Bousquet's injury just complicates that further. Still, there's no question the Bobcats have the potential to be the best team in Manitoba.
Yes, I said it.
Manitoba and Winnipeg are no longer the juggernauts they once were and Brandon has shown it doesn't have to be the provincial punching bag anymore. (This province, however, is no indication of what else is out there in the conference).
Now, whether or not that happens depends on a lot of things, not the least of which is this team finding an identity early on and getting production from all over the roster.
That can start this weekend.
THE PREDICTION: 4-20.
Republished from the Brandon Sun print edition October 20, 2010 B3