The Brandon University Bobcats are done for the first semester, so time for the report cards to come out. Here then is the Sun's seventh annual mid-term report, starting this week with women's basketball:
PSYCHOLOGY: In February, 2008, the Bobcats ended the conference season with two victories over the Winnipeg Wesmen and, months later, opened the '08-09 season with a split against the Manitoba Bisons, a feat the program hadn't pulled off in years. Jayla Bousquet, Melanie Thompson and Sarah Lopes were entering their junior years, Nicisha Johnson arrived to finally give the Bobcats a legitimate presence in the middle and while no one was talking about conference championships, the mood around the program was upbeat. The feeling was the losses wouldn't be as mentally damaging because there was cause for optimism and, because of that, players were working hard and buying in, believing that the work was going to pay off.
Today the picture is decidedly more bleak and the collective psyche is not where it was two years ago. Thompson quit, Bousquet's injured for the year and Lopes is playing out her final year of eligibility surrounded by plenty of new faces.
PHILOSOPHY: Much of what has fuelled this team during head coach Jaime Taggart's tenure has been players playing with a chip on their shoulder and going forward with a certain underdog-driven adrenaline needed to knock off better opponents. But with the above stated problems, that edge is non-existent, so it's hard to see what this team now stands for.
In terms of pure Xs and Os, the Bobcats are trying to be one thing when their personnel dictates otherwise: Going to high-low sets against teams that are as big and bigger than you is ill-advised -- doing it every time down despite never getting anything out of it is a sign you're not learning your lessons. There are players with skill here, but they're not being put in the best positions to succeed.
MATH: Grab whatever formulas you want; multiply, add, divide; carry the two for that matter. It doesn't matter. There is nothing in the numbers coming out good for the Brandon Bobcats. In fact, it's historically bad. The Bobcats are scoring at their lowest clip since the '06-07 season (at 49 ppg), but that's not even the most alarming stat. BU is giving up over 90 points per game, the most porous defensive figure it's posted since joining the Canada West conference and, because the old Great Plains Athletic Conference is an absolute embarrassment for its archival neglect, we can only (safely) assume it will go down as one of the worst ever. There are NBA teams that barely score 90 a game.
HEALTH STUDIES: Next week, Taggart's 30-day medical leave will come to an end, but that doesn't mean the questions will. The athletics department should have had in place a contingency plan for running this team for the inevitability that Taggart was going to have to step away from the sideline because of her pregnancy. Taggart and her unborn baby's health is her foremost priority -- the school's priorities should have been towards the student-athletes. But as the Bobcats prepared for their first road trip without their head coach, confusion abounded. Director of athletics Kirk DeFazio and the coaching staff, Taggart included, needed to come together quickly and make that transition as seamless as possible. Instead, players weren't alerted to whom was going to coach their team the next week until three days before they were to fly to Calgary. Across the board, that's unacceptable and it's unfair to the players who are being asked to give so much.
FINAL GRADES: It's hard to pick on a team that has had so much thrown at it but -- pardon the played-out phrase -- it is what it is. The positives? Guard Madison Bradbury has been tremendous as a freshman, rarely looking the part of a just-from-high-school rookie, leading the team in scoring, steals and free-throw percentage. And junior forward Kelsey Solarchuk is playing her best basketball since arriving out of Oak Park High School. There's still plenty of room for her to grow, but her development is reason for optimism.
But the negatives outweigh the positives, once again, and barring a minor miracle 2010-11 will go down as the most disastrous campaign in years for BU women's hoops.
Things I think I know:
I think: This team had its hopes in August.
I know: Those hopes were squashed in October.
Lest anyone get to criticizing beat reporters for being overly -- uhh critical -- it's apt to remind readers that in this spot just a couple of months ago it was predicted the Bobcats would win four games despite not having their two best players from the past four years. In hindsight that, of course, was completely ridiculous. I don't know what kool-aid I was drinking, but it was obviously laced with something mind-altering. Listen, for all the pluck and might that the Bobcats have shown in doses over the past few years, they simply couldn't get over the losses of Bousquet and Thompson AND hope to get better.
I think: Practices at 6:30 a.m. are a bad idea.
I know: Practices at 6:30 a.m. are a bad idea.
Taggart's thoughts in running practices at a time when roosters are still hitting the snooze is that it provides her team with a measure of consistency. True. But there's too many negatives to make that one truth worthwhile, not the least of which is the basic tenet that in any athletic endeavour you try to train at a time when you're going to compete. Ask a marathoner or a triathlete how training at midnight when you're competing at noon will work out for you.
I think: This has been a peculiar year.
I know: Very few teams would've adapted properly.
From Thompson's decision not to play, to freshman Caitlin Brock up and leaving just days into training camp, to Bousquet's unfortunate injury, to Taggart's pregnancy, to the coaching fluctuation, this has been one of the more bizarre years for a program that historically has had its fair share of the weird. This was likely not going to be a playoff team this season anyway, but you throw in all of the extraneous factors and you would be hard-pressed to find any team in Canada that could dig itself out of that and still perform at a level expected of it.