Brandon rookie Aimee Johnston, right, has been a bright spot in a winless first half for BU. (FILE PHOTO)
The academic semester at Brandon University isn’t completed yet, but the first term is over for the Brandon University Bobcats, so it’s time to issue the mid-season reports. This week, we start with the women’s basketball team.
HOLIDAY BREAK: The Bobcats enter the break with a Canada West conference-worst 0-8 record, but they started the season already behind the eight-ball. Ritchie Jacobson came on as the team’s interim head coach late in the summer after former head coach Jaime Taggart decided not to return to the bench. Jacobson was left with little time to recruit players to a team that went 0-24 last season. He did manage to bring in a key veteran in third-year American post Kate Helgeson from Lansford, N.D., but she left before the regular season started due to the Brandon University Faculty Association strike.
HEALTH STUDIES: Things went from bad to worse for the Bobcats when the team’s only fifth-year player, Jayla Bousquet, didn’t play a single game in the first half due to a lingering knee problem. BU was also without promising sophomore shooting guard Madison Bradbury for the majority of the half with a thigh injury. In her second game back with the Bobcats, Bradbury went down with an elbow injury that limited her time on the court for the last two games before the break. They also have a lot of players battling nagging injuries, which made it even more difficult for a team with a short bench.
UNIVERSITY 101: The Bobcats are a young team with six of the 11 players on the roster in either their first or second years of eligibility. With so much youth, the team’s goal for the season was to give their young players lots of court time and have them learn what it takes to compete in the very difficult Canada West conference. Kaela Cranston and Stephanie Haynes, who are right out of high school, are seeing a lot of time on the floor, but no young player has stood out more than Aimee Johnston. The Vincent Massey Vikings graduate leads the team with 13.4 points and 7.9 rebounds per game.
"Aimee Johnston had a tremendous first term," Jacobson said. "We were excited to have her as a first-year player, but I don’t know if anyone could have predicted some of the stuff she did for us. As a first-year kid who had to have the ball in her hands a lot, she did some pretty good things. That’s a plus."
PSYCHOLOGY: The Bobcats entered the season focused more on developing the young players than winning games, but that’s not to say the team didn’t have some close games in the first half. They were within two points of the Manitoba Bisons after three quarters before giving up 21 points in the fourth in a loss on Nov. 19 and they played the UBC-Okanagan Heat well for three quarters as well, but were outscored 24-6 in the first quarter. The players believe they could beat those teams if given another shot, but they won’t get it. The closest competition they may have in the second half is Lethbridge (2-6), which BU hosts Feb. 3 and 4. Despite getting blown out in a few games and feeling like they blew a couple of chances to earn a victory, the team is trying to stay positive.
"Given the fact that we were so young, you have to take something away from that," Jacobson said. "You can’t get caught up in that. It’s definitely a rebuilding phase and you have to take a step back and see what we did well. We’re getting better fundamentally in practice each day and we are playing harder as a group. I take good things from those weekends."
FINAL GRADE: The Bobcats have a long way to go to win a game, but they’re much closer to accomplishing their goal of knowing what it takes to prepare for games. They are improving. Jaynell Gillett and Chantel Gaslard both put up more points than Johnston in their final game of the first semester and there is hope that Bousquet will return some time in January. The rest of the Bobcats have until Jan. 6 to nurse their nagging injuries and if they can stay healthy, they could be an improved team in the second half.
"The frustrating part is with so many injuries, I don’t think we’ve seen as much improvement as we could have had," Jacobson said. "We did have some improvement and there’s no question I’m happy with the development of the young players."
Republished from the Brandon Sun print edition December 9, 2011