The state of U of R sports

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Looking back at the past semester and previewing the upcoming one

Jonathan Hamelin
Sports Editor

Cross-Country
 
Regina’s cross-country head coach Bruce McCannel was pleased with how the season ended for the Cougars cross-country team.

At the 2010 CIS Cross-Country Championships in Quebec early in November, 2010, Regina’s men’s team finished third in Canada West and seventh in the CIS. The Cougars did not send a women’s team.

“I was very happy [with our finish],” McCannel noted. “I think the team did outstanding. For a young team, they performed very well. Points-wise, I think we actually did better this year than last year when we won Canada West.”

Cougars star Kelly Wiebe, however, was not quite as happy. Wiebe finished third in the overall standings, less than a second behind the winner, and claimed bronze. It was the same medal he won at the previous CIS Championships.

“I’m happy that I was able to capture a medal, but it’s the same placing as last year, which is somewhat disappointing because you always want to improve,” explained Wiebe, who was clearly dejected a few days after the loss. “Overall, I’m pretty happy, but I think I could have had a better race. It just wasn’t my day really."

For his efforts, Wiebe was named the conference runner of the year and earned a first-team all-star nod. He was also named a CIS first-team all-Canadian. Iain Fyfe, who finished eighth at the championships, was also named a conference first-team all-star and a CIS second-team all-Canadian. Rookie Matt Johnson topped off his impressive rookie year by finishing 32nd and earning a conference second-team all-star nod. Other men competing for the Cougars were Dale Wig (42nd), Michael Middlemiss (94th), and Marc Beaton (102nd). Lisa Benz, the lone woman competing for the Cougars championship, finished 87th.

The outlook remains high for the Cougars when the next cross-country season begins next fall. During the regular season races this season, the men finished first and second twice, while the women earned one second-place finish.

“We’re in a really good spot,” said McCannel. “Most runners are returning. Each of them having another year of experience will help. If these young runners keep progressing like they have been, we’ll be solid next year. That is a great position to be in. You just want to be able to contend.”
 
Football
 
The Rams entered the Canada West season with mixed expectations.

Last season, the club made the playoffs on a technicality and were quickly eliminated by the rival Saskatchewan Huskies. Some question marks surrounding the club for the 2010 campaign were who would replace Jordan Sisco, who would step up and become the featured back, and how would the defence play? There turned out to be positive answers to all of these questions.

On the receiving front, Brenden Owens finished the season with 596 yards and five touchdowns and Mark McConkey registered 509 yards and one touchdown. Adrian Charles emerged as a dominant running back for Regina, piling up 972 yards and nine touchdowns. The defence forced many turnovers and led the CIS in defensive touchdowns with five.

There was perhaps no bigger surprise than Charles, who had not played football since the 2008 Prairie Football Conference season. He broke the Rams single-season yardage record and tied the touchdown mark. He led the conference in rushing.

A promising season for the Rams came to an abrupt halt. Thanks to their strong play during the regular season, it appeared that Regina would lock down a home playoff game. But, a loss to the Huskies in the last game of the regular season ended these hopes. Then, in a conference semifinal, the Rams suffered a close 40-33 loss to the host Calgary Dinos.

Next season, if the Rams can get some repeat performances from their players, expect another successful campaign.
 
Men’s basketball
 
The Cougars are slowly learning to be winners this season, largely thanks to the fact that Paul Gareau has learned a valuable lesson himself.

After being suspended from the team for academic reasons during the 2008-09 season, Gareau is back with Regina. He has worked harder in the classroom and improved his grades. With his academic situation under control, the forward has been able to make a huge impact on the court. Gareau leads the team with nearly 17 points per game. As a team, Regina has won seven games halfway through the Canada West season after posting 10 wins last season.

“Sitting out for the last couple of years has given me time to work out and work on my game,” noted Gareau. “I’ve done a lot of training in the gym. I think it’s finally paying off. Plus, I’m getting a chance to play more minutes than I expected. My teammates are getting me the ball in good spots to score. I’ve just been able to finish.”

“We knew [Paul] was a good player when he was with us three years ago,” Cougars head coach James Hillis explained. “He’s an athlete and has got a knack for finishing and putting the ball in the hoop.”

It is not just about Gareau, however.

“The way we play as a team, we’re not individual players,” offered Gareau. “We’re well-rounded. We’ve got a lot of good players who don’t have egos. It is a team-first mentality.”

Other players who have excelled for Regina this season are guard Jeff Lukomski (14 ppg, 69.6 shooting percentage) and forward Kris Heshka (11.7 ppg, 6.7 rebounds per game). Currently tied for third in the conference at 7-5, Regina is in a good position as the season continues.

The Cougars hit to road to face Williston State College on Saturday in non-conference play before kicking off the second half of the season next weekend.
 
Men’s hockey
 
For Regina, the first half of the Canada West season was truly a tale of two halves.

The first half was average and the second half was awful.

The Cougars, who sit last in the conference at 6-10, opened up the season with four wins and four losses in their first eight games. Since then, Regina has preceded to win only two games.

To improve, the Cougars are going to need some of their offensive players to step up. None of Regina’s players come close to cracking the top 50 in CIS scoring. Players like Terrance DeLaronde (six assists, 10 points), Lucas Isley (five goals, nine points), Dillon Johnstone (five assists, nine points), Tyler Penny (five assists, eight points), and Matt Strueby (six assists, eight points) will need to maximize their offensive productivity.

On defence, the Cougars need to work on limiting the shots on goaltenders Adam Ward and A.J. Whiffen. Regina has allowed 31 shots a game so far this season, a fact that has largely contributed to their struggles.

According to Ryan Sawka, the Cougars in general need to “work on being more mentally alert.”

Luckily for Regina, things can hopefully only go up from here as they look to battle back in the standings. They are separated from second place by only six points. Regina battles the Huskies in a home-and-home series this weekend. The game is at the Co-operators Centre on Friday at 7 p.m. and in Saskatoon on Saturday.

Men’s volleyball
 
To rise up in the Canada West standings this season, the Cougars looked down under.

Regina plucked talented setter Matt Hender from Perth, Australia, during the off-season. It was a perfect fit for both parties.

“I was looking to study and play at the same time and Canada and America were the top priorities for me,” explained Hender. “There were a few other universities that were interested in getting me, but I got the best scholarship offer here.”

“[Matt’s] got a good recognition of the flow of the game,” offered Cougars head coach Greg Barthel. “He knows when to run certain things and when not to. We looked to him to come in and play well like everyone else.”

While Hender has racked up some impressive numbers this season, tallying 161 assists and 6.44 assists per set and leading the team in both categories, Regina has still struggled. The Cougars posted a record of 1-7 through the first half of the season, which puts them in a tie for eighth in the conference.

Struggles are unfortunately nothing new for the organization. Over the last two seasons, for example, Regina has posted a record of 2-34 and failed to win a game last season.

Why the struggles?

“It’s hard to say,” admitted Barthel. “We’ve had a fairly a young team. If you look at last year, we also had some significant injuries to some pretty significant players.

“[Heading into this season] our goal was to make the playoffs.”

If this goal is to be reached, things are going to have to pick up for the Cougars quickly. The Cougars begin the second half of the season next weekend at Alberta.



Men’s wrestling
 
It has been a decent season on the mats for the Cougars so far.

At the Dino Open in Calgary in October, 2010, the first event of the season, the Cougars finished second. Regina followed this up with losses in two dual events in November, one to Jamestown College and the other to Dakota Wesleyan. At the DWU Open in Mitchell, S.D., in November, a number of Cougar wrestlers made it to the final round. At the Huskie Open in Saskatoon later that month, Regina earned another second-place finish. In December, the Cougars lost the Minot State Dual and finished up the first half of the season with a fifth-place finish at the Dragon Open.

Regina travels to Edmonton for the Golden Bear Open on Saturday.
 
Soccer
 
The Cougars finished 5-7-2 in Canada West this season, easily missed the playoffs and failed to reach the six-game win total they had aspired for.

However, it is hard to view the season as a complete failure.

The Cougars easily shattered their previous victory total in a season of two games and at times played like a team destined for the playoffs.

“It’s certainly a boost to our program,” explained Cougars head coach Bob Maltman. “The three wins are good for the players. To have success, players must have a tremendous amount of will and sacrifice to commit to their training during and after the season. Because of this effort, the players are starting to be rewarded.”

A big reason for Regina’s improvement this season was the play of goalkeeper Michelle Anderson. This season, Anderson boasted 98 saves (conference-best), a .845 save percentage (conference-best) and a 1.29 goals-against average.

However, when asked about her accolades, Anderson was the definition of humble.

“Without a team to give it my all for and a coach to make proud, I’m just another goalie between the posts,” she reasoned. “Personal success doesn’t really mean much if the team isn’t successful. Soccer is a team sport and you can only look good if your team makes you look good.”

Instead of getting focusing on her personal accolades, Anderson would much rather talk about how she feels the Cougars will improve further next season. Regina will field a relatively similar squad next fall.

“We are already doing what needs to be done technically,” explained Anderson. “Our biggest obstacle seems to be a mental one. Sometimes, we doubt ourselves and our talents. When you get scored on early in the game, it’s hard not to slip back into a past mindset of “oh no, here we go again,” but I think as time goes on we are definitely breaking that thought pattern.”
 
Swimming
 
The swimming season just got underway before the first semester ended.

As the action picks up more this semester, the organization will look to move forward and forget the struggles of the past few years. One reason they might be able to do this is because of new swim coach Sylvain Pineau.

Pineau, who has done nothing but build winning swimming programs in his career, is certainly the right man for the job.

“My philosophy is fair and very straight forward,” noted Pineau. “I try to make it extremely simple in this new society where everything is fast. I like to break things down, so each swimmer can grab something daily they can improve on. Fitness and commitment are very important. My background in science helps a lot, because I can back up what we do in the water with some science behind it.”

Pineau is also hoping to change the negative attitude surrounding the team.

“Right now, the swimmers feel like, ‘well we’re only the Cougars. We’re 32nd in the country and that’s OK,’” observed Pineau. “I can’t stand that. I’m either going to quit the Cougar project or we’re going to make a statement and start beating some teams along the way. We’re aiming for six or seven swimmers competing at the Canada West Championships and I’d like to have at least three at CIS.”
 
Track and Field
 
Like the swimming season, the track and field season is just getting underway for the Cougars.

At the end of November, 2010, the Cougars competed in an intrasquad meet. Then, in December, Regina hosted the Friendship Games. At this event, the Cougars had great success.

Chris Pickering bettered his CIS standard shot put-mark with a toss of 15.7 metres and broke his U of R record of 15.65 metres. In the 200-metre dash, Merissa Margetts (first, 25.71 seconds) and Amanda Ruller (second, 25.79) both broke Ruller’s 2008 school record of 25.8. Chelsea Valois hit the CIS standard in the pentathlon with a score of 3422 points, as did Justin Baker in the 60-metre hurdles, posting a time of 8.30 seconds.          
 
Women’s basketball
 
No Brittany Read, no problem.

After losing their star centre to a knee injury just before the season started, expectations slightly dropped for the Cougars, who had been pegged to finish first in Canada West. Showing fierce resilience, Regina has proven the naysayers wrong so far.

Regina is tied for first in the conference at 10-2. Of course, just because of Read’s injury, it does not mean the Cougars were not confident heading into the season.

“Our goals heading into the season didn’t change,” Joanna Zalesiak insisted. “[The loss of Read] boosted our confidence a little bit, because all the teams thought that we couldn’t do good and we wanted to prove them wrong and do well anyways.”

Zalesiak, the Cougars’ starting point guard, has been a big reason for the team’s success this season. She has tallied 16.4 ppg and 4.4 assists per game this season. Other players have stepped up for Regina as well, including Lindsay Ledingham (11.4 ppg, 7 rpg) and Gabrielle Gheyssen (10.1 ppg, 3.3 rpg).

“We have some great players,” offered Zalesiak. “They are not all old players, but they are experienced.”

Read has also contributed to the Cougars success, even though she is injured.

“Brittany is there all the time at practice,” Cougars head coach Dave Taylor explained. “She helps the young posts. She talks to them, helping them through the different plays. During games, we’ll often send a player over to talk to Brittany because Brittany knows exactly what’s going on and what should go on.”

The Cougars host Medicine Hat College in non-conference action on Friday, 7 p.m., at the Centre for Kinesiology, Health and Sport. They begin the second half of their season next weekend.
 
Women’s hockey
 
A rather epic slide has put the Cougars in a big hole heading into the second half of the Canada West season.

After posting an impressive 4-2 record to start the season, the Cougars dropped seven of eight to close out and are now near the bottom of the conference standings at 5-7-2.

While all areas of the Cougars team have struggled during this period, the offence has at time shown signs of life. Rianne Wight (12 goals, 16 points), Paige Wheeler (nine assists, 15 points), and Kelcie McCutcheon (nine assists, 11 points) have led the offence.

“We all have really good chemistry,” noted Wheeler. “Our coach [Sarah Hodges] finally put us all together on a line.”

It just may be these three players who turn things around for the Cougars when they begin the second half of the season in a home-and-home series against the Huskies. On Friday, the Cougars play in Saskatoon and then host the Huskies on Saturday, 7 p.m., at the Co-operators Centre.

“We’re optimistic,” said McCutcheon. “Our record still isn’t that bad. We’re not too far that we can’t get back.”

“We’re just trying to think of the positives and not the negatives,” added Wight.

Women’s volleyball
 
One of the big stories for the Cougars in the off-season was the loss of Beth Clark.

The accomplished block set records at the U of R for career kills (948), blocks (341), and service aces (102). However, heading into the season, Cougars head coach Melanie Sanford was adamant about the fact that one player does not make a team.

“You never really rely on one player – not in our sport,” said Sanford. “Our sport is a real team game. There is not one player that can get it done for the team. That’s what can be the beauty and the frustration of the sport. When you get people not on the same page, it can really hurt you. At the same time, when it works well, it’s what’s really special.”

Seeing as Regina is only 3-5 on the season and in a hole in Canada West, one could argue that the loss of Clark has been a huge factor, especially since last season Regina finished with an impressive mark of 13-7. Glancing at the Cougars line-up, it is hard to find a player who has really stood out.

The team will have to gel in the second half if they hope to rebound. Regina resumes play next weekend at Alberta.
 
Women’s wrestling
 
So far, the Cougars women’s squad has not enjoyed quite the success of the men.

In its first event of the season, the Dinos Open in Calgary in October, 2010, the team finished fifth. At the Hargobind Invitational in Surrey B.C. in November, Regina finished 11th. At the Huskie Open in Saskatoon in November, the last event of the first semester for the Cougars, they finished fifth.

The Cougars are in action on Saturday, at the Golden Bear Open in Edmonton.

 – With files from Autumn McDowell

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