The 2011-12 season was yet another test of frustration for the Brandon University Bobcats women’s basketball team.
The Bobcats suffered from a short bench, a litany of injuries that limited players’ court time and a lot of youth in the lineup as they went winless (0-20) for the second straight Canada West season. However, there were some bright spots.
INEXPERIENCE: The Bobcats were young to start the season with only one fifth-year player and one fourth-year player. And the injury situation didn’t help.
Jayla Bousquet, the team’s only senior, didn’t see any court time until Brandon’s final home game of the season due to the knee injuries that plagued her during her time at BU. Second-year guard Madison Bradbury missed 12 of the team’s 20 games because of a leg injury, an elbow injury and a barrage of illnesses that hit the 19-year-old Winnipegger. Third-year forward Chantel Gaslard, who has a penchant for scoring under the basket, saw limited duty because of her knees, although she did play in 19 games.
That left Raisa Rybinski, the fourth-year player on the squad, Jaynell Gillett, who’s in her second season of playing university basketball, and three freshmen to start the majority of games for Brandon.
The inexperience showed, especially at point guard. Without Bradbury, first-year players Kaela Cranston and Stephanie Haynes were often trying to run the offence at point, a position neither played in high school. They struggled dealing with the pressure other Canada West teams put on the Bobcats as the pair combined for 206 turnovers in the season.
"In my eyes, that’s the most important position in college basketball," said Ritchie Jacobson, who coached the team on an interim basis the past two seasons. "If you can’t get the ball up the floor, it doesn’t matter what you do offensively or whether you have kids in the box who can score. If you can’t get the ball there, you can’t get the ball there. There’s no question it was frustrating. Just a lack of experience and some of the injuries."
FUTURE STARS: Despite the struggles, two Bobcat players started to shine as the season progressed.
Rookie guard/forward Aimee Johnston got off to a flying start and quickly became the focus of opposing defences.
Johnston, who averaged 32.3 minutes per game, struggled a bit as opponents focused more on her, but she still led the team with 11.7 points and 7.8 rebounds per game. That’s the most points per game scored by a Bobcat since Bousquet and Melanie Thompson averaged 11.7 points per game in the 2008-09 season.
As more attention was paid to Johnston, Gillett started to look more comfortable under the basket. The former track and field athlete started making aggressive moves in the paint to get better shots and worked her way to the free-throw line 91 times during the season — which was 33 more times than any of her teammates. She averaged 7.7 points per game and 31.4 minutes of court time.
"They developed a ton," Jacobson said. "Any time you can get 30 minutes of playing time and you can stay positive, you’re only going to get better, and they have the physical tools to get better at this level. They’re two kids you can legitimately build around. That’s a step in the right direction with those two kids."
LOOKING FORWARD: Jacobson spent the majority of last season working with his players on fundamentals and what it takes to play at the CIS level.
Next season will be very different. Jacobson will be in the stands cheering on the team and Novell Thomas will be running the bench as the Bobcats’ new permanent head coach. He will arrive in Brandon on April 2, but has already started recruiting new players.
Jacobson, who’s also resigned his position as assistant coach with the BU men’s basketball team, thinks it’s the perfect time for change to come to the women’s program with the Healthy Living Centre opening this fall, Thomas taking over the team and some young talent to build the program around.
"I think everything is in place now to turn this thing around," he said. "It isn’t going to happen overnight, but it looks like it’s prime to go in the right direction. I’m behind Novell 110 per cent and I wish them the best of luck and hope they get there."