Cougar Corner: Midterm Grades
By Dan Khavkin, Sports Editor
With the final weeks of the first semester wrapping up, the varsity sports calendar is taking a break of its own with all six Mount Royal Cougar teams capping off its 2018 year and getting set for the turn of the new year.
Here is how the Reflector grades each team’s first half progress.
Men’s hockey: B
Bert Gilling’s boys in blue had high expectations coming into the 2018/2019 season. But so far, they are lacking team identity and have not been clicking on all cylinders yet.
Heading into the winter break, Cougar athletic’s most prominent squad are sitting at 7-5-4, sitting fifth out of six in the playoff race.
MRU began their season in dominating fashion against the Regina Cougars before suffering two consecutive sweeps at the hands of UBC and heartbreaking back-to-back overtime losses to defending national champion Alberta.
The Cougars bounced back at home against Manitoba, formulating their second sweep of the season but once again, fell into a rough stretch of losses after facing a harsh reality check against rival Calgary Dinos who swept a home-and-home before dropping two more straight games against first-placed Saskatchewan.
The boys in blue took care of business against a struggling Lethbridge team, dusting them aside in a sweep. But just as it seemed like the Cougars found their groove after picking up their third straight win, their best streak so far, they dropped the return match 2-1 in double overtime to bottom Regina after decimating them 12-2 the night prior.
Looking at the record on a grander scale, the Cougars did pick up a total of three points against the perennial top two heavyweights in Saskatchewan and Alberta, results that could’ve been worse.
MRU played a perfect 58-minute game both nights against Saskatchewan but the small let-ups is what cost the Cougars a potential four-point weekend.
Other losses such as the sweep of UBC were due in part to factors off the ice, such as injury, and coming off a reading break trip to the States but the reality checks against top contenders in the Dinos really did make the squad look in the mirror.
The second cycle of the schedule should be seen as a chance to redeem earlier defeats if the Cougars will be looking to host playoffs in the spring.
Preferably at least a point or two against Saskatchewan and Alberta, a sweep against second last Manitoba, Lethbridge and Regina. And probably most importantly for team morale, a win at the Crowchild Classic game at the Saddledome in January against the Dinos.
Women’s hockey: C
MRU’s women’s hockey had a rough schedule to kick off their 2018/2019 campaign. Currently sitting at 6-8-1-1, they’re holding onto the final playoff spot in Canada West.
After splitting their opening weekend against Regina, the Cougars faced juggernauts in UBC, Alberta and defending national champions Manitoba consecutively, picking up only four points in those six games.
The Cougars had a chance to earn points back in order to climb up the standings and had the perfect chance against Calgary, who are often in the battle for the last playoff positions with MRU, shockingly splitting the series with the Dinos.
Following that, MRU earned a respectable split against Saskatchewan before going on a three game winning streak, sweeping bottom Lethbridge and winning the first match against Regina before splitting with them once again.
The Cougars will really need to steal some points in their next six games against the top three teams if they want to put themselves in the position to separate themselves from the bottom. They will need to capitalize on the matchups against Lethbridge and Calgary, the two schools that are always on MRU’s tail for the final playoff spot.
Men’s volleyball: A+
Shawn Sky’s volleybll team are emerging as MRU’s best program on campus, if they can carry this pace for this season and the ones to follow.
Sitting fourth place with an astonishing 9-3 record in the toughest conference in the country, MRU peaked as high as second place in the U SPORTS top 10 just a few weeks ago in a list that features almost half of the Canada West conference.
Led by Tyler Schmidt and his record breaking season, leading the conference in kills and kills per set along with Jonathan Phillips and his defensive efforts, leading the conference in his own regard with the most digs and averaging the highest dig count per set.
Contributions with Cougar rookie and ex-SAIT Trojan and ACAC player of the year Trent Mounter, along with the rest of the supporting cast, MRU are poised to have their best record since the transition to U SPORTS.
There really isn’t much to say about the Cougar season. Other than the blemish against first placed Alberta who swept MRU, the Cougars took care of business against UBCO and UBC but dropped a game against a 4-6 Winnipeg team that MRU wishes to get back.
It’s been a great first semester so far but the tough matches are set to take place against Thompson Rivers and Trinity Western, who are right beside the Cougars in the league table and against a chasing 6-6 Saskatchewan squad but also have a chance to pad the win total against 3-9 MacEwan and 3-7 Calgary.
Women’s volleyball: B-
MRU women’s volleyball are sitting at a decent 6-6 record in an up and down season so far, resting at sixth place out of eight in the playoff picture heading into the break.
Only five schools are sitting over 0.500 while everyone else, the Cougars included, are in one big mix for playoff positions.
MRU began their campaign on a positive note with a sweep of Manitoba on home-court but then suffered their first sweep of the season at the hands of Alberta.
The Cougars effectively shot themselves in the foot with back-to-back splits against last and second last placed Brandon and UBCO. They followed those performances with two more splits to end their semester, again, against a very low ranked Winnipeg team before winning a game back against Regina who are among the teams in the playoff hunt.
MRU are to kick off 2019 in a crucial series against UBC who are right above MRU in the standings. Following that, series against trailing Thompson Rivers and MacEwan on the road will have huge playoff implications to start the final stretch of the season before facing second placed Calgary in a tough weekend set and closing their season against lower ranked Saskatchewan.
Men’s basketball: B-
MRU’s men’s basketball team have finished the semester the same way they began it, at a mediocre pace, going into the holiday break with a 6-6 record. But so far, they are sitting in a decent ninth place in the Canada West conference.
The boys in blue are shooting the ball at a decent rate from the field, ranking sixth in the conference at 43.3 per cent while shooting fifth best from the three-point line at 34.4 per cent. All around, the Cougars are playing well averaging 43 rebounds per game, fourth highest in the league. But they struggle in distributing the ball, ranking twelfth in assists per game and also turning the ball over at a very low rate, being ranked third last in the league.
The Cougars got swept by 6-4 UNBC to start off their season and ended the semester with back-to-back losses to second placed UBC.
In between, the Cougars had results that vary from success to bottle jobs. MRU did take care of business against winless Trinity Western and MacEwan, formulating two sweeps in the first half. However, a respectable weekend split against UBCO went along with questionable weekend split against 3-7 Manitoba.
Next semester isn’t going to be any easier with the Cougars having scheduled meetings against the first placed and undefeated Calgary Dinos with a home-and-home to kickstart 2019 before seeing Lethbridge who are in the hunt for a playoff spot.
Another tough series against Saskatchewan will most likely determine the fate of the Cougar season down the stretch, but MRU ends their season in Brandon, who are currently sitting 2-8.
Women’s basketball: C-
Despite having a rough schedule to start their 2018/2019 season, the MRU women’s basketball team is struggling and have a hard mountain to climb if they want to be in the hunt for the final playoff positions.
MRU dropped their first six in consecutive fashion but four were against top seven opponents in UNBC and Trinity Western, where the Cougars almost stole a game on the road, while they also faced a red-hot Manitoba who started their campaign at 5-0.
The Cougars managed to show a pulse of life, formulating a sweep against UBCO but dropped two vital matches against MacEwan at home who are neck-and-neck in the playoff picture before getting swept by UBC to close off their semester.
MRU is not out of the fight yet, but they have a tough start to 2019 against second-placed Calgary before another key matchup against 5-5 Lethbridge. The series against the ‘Horns, gives the Cougars a chance to leapfrog some schools in the league table before having another tough weekend against first placed Saskatchewan and then closing their season against Brandon, who has the same number of wins as MRU heading into 2019.