MRU Cougar sports year in review
By Dan Khavkin, Sports Editor
Ryan Gyaki’s boys in blue kicked off their footy season while the rest of us were still soaking in the scorching sun in the final weeks leading up to the school year.
MRU began their campaign with a succesful 2-0-0 homestand in late August on the backs of first-year Moe El Gandour who totalled four points in his first two matches in a Cougar jersey.
The Cougars saw a drop in form, dropping three of their next four.
MRU began a B.C. homestand that saw the Cougars drop a scrappy 3-0 game to UFV that was full of controversy as a Cougars player was shown a red card for allegedly stamping a Cascade player.
After responding with a unified 2-0 performance over UBCO the following afternoon, the Cougars failed to pick up a win for five straight matches.
With MRU’s record sitting at 3-7-1 later on in the season and the battle for final playoff position changing every result, the Cougars had to come through in the clutch and did just that.
At the schedule reset, MRU bounced back from a harsh 4-0 loss by securing two wins in their final three matches to firmly secure the final playoff position in the Canada West Prairie Division.
In a quarter-final rematch from the previous season, MRU visited top-ranked UBC and were in the game for 62 minutes before the T-Birds wore down the Cougar back-line. After going up 1-0 in the 63rd minute, the Cougars pressed high in a show of desperation but ended up being caught too high two more times as the Cougar season ended in a 3-0 loss in the first round of playoffs.
Rookie El Gandour was named to the Canada West second all-star team and Canada West all-rookie team while team captain and centre-half Daniel Harrison was also recognized on the conference level, also being named to the second all-star team.
Coach Tino Fusco led his MRU Cougar side to their most successful season in the seven seasons of university competition, finishing with a 6-6-2 record, marking the highest win and point totals for the women’s soccer program in school history.
After starting their campaign with a 1-0 win over Lethbridge, the Cougars dropped two tough decisions against Calgary that was decided by a last minute penalty while UBCO stealing a 2-1 win and spoil the home-opener.
The Cougars responded furiously by going on a five game unbeaten run that saw four straight victories against Thompson Rivers 4-1 at home, a sweep of Saskatchewan with wins against Regina and the Huskies 2-1 and 3-0, before coming home and holding the fort down for a four-point weekend against Manitoba teams, the Bisons and the Wesmen, winning 2-1 and drawing 2-2 respectively.
MRU outscored opposition 13-5 during that run.
Down the stretch, however, the form was flipped and saw the Cougars only pick up one win in their final five games before winning the final game of the season against the same Lethbridge team.
In the Canada West quarter-finals, the Cougars suffered another heartbreak, being a penalty kick away from advancing for a second straight season. UFV outlasted MRU 2-1 (3-2 pen) and moved on while MRU’s season was cut short.
Veteran and defensive stopper Quinn Hardstaff was recognized on the conference level as a second team all-star. Meanwhile British export and goalkeeper Rose Hemans was named to the Canada West all-rookie team as she played in eleven matches this year and earned three of Mount Royal’s four clean sheets. She was in the top five in all of Canada West in save percentage, and top ten in goals against and total number of saves.
The most successful varsity team in MRU history was Shawn Sky and his men’s volleyball team that saw the Cougars pile accomplishment after accomplishment as the weeks went on.
MRU finished the regular season at 15-7 that featured one of many accolades for the boys in blue and became the first Cougars squad out of all varsity teams to represent MRU on the USPORTS level in the spring.
After sweeping Manitoba to start the season and then getting swept by Alberta the following weekend, the Cougars went on an 11-1 tear during the most important run of the schedule.
This epic run saw the Cougars sit inside the top five of the national rankings for the majority of the season.
MRU clinched home-court for the first time at the university level and faced the Saskatchewan Huskies who swept the Cougars in the final weekend of the season.
Graduating senior and outside Tyler Schmidt added to the collection of achievements as the senior moved into sole possession of being first in the Canada West all-time kills and point totals.
The Cougars formulated the revenge sweep of their own and on home-court to move on the road to history, reaching the Canada West semi-final.
In the final four, the Cougars drew the number one ranked program in the country in the 20-2 Brandon Bobcats.
BU’s only two defeats came at the hands of the Cougars in early November. MRU seemed to be the Bobcats’ kryptonite after stealing a game one win before Brandon turned up level of play and won the next two matches to end any hopes of a conference banner.
Despite the semi-final loss, MRU were well within the top eight of the national rankings and the hopes for a national title were still alive for the Cougars. The USPORTS ranking algorithm allowed for the Cougars to be the first team in school history to compete on the national university level.
MRU drew familiar foes in Alberta during the USPORTS quarter-final but were ousted in three sets. Despite the loss, MRU won the consolation final, beating out the rest of the eliminated teams and officially finished fifth in the country as a result.
MRU’s women’s volleyball team was the Cougars’ most gritty out of all the varsity teams.
The Cougars quite literally split their way into playoffs as the Cougars finished with an even 12-12 record and squeaked into the playoffs thanks to both controlling their own destiny and some scheduled luck.
Like the men’s team, MRU swept their first weekend then got swept the second weekend but the women’s team went on to split their next five weekend sets.
After getting swept on the road at Thompson Rivers in early January, dropping two five-set thrillers, the Cougars stuck to their consistent ways and redeemed the sweep by formulating one of their own, against MacEwan, to stop the losses from piling up.
During the final stretch, the Cougars lost three straight matches to open February but redeemed themselves by closing out the regular season with three wins that were all must-wins.
MRU upset top-ranked Calgary Dinos by winning the rubber match after getting worked in three sets the night prior and continued their form by sweeping against chasing Saskatchewan Huskies.
The Cougars were one spot out of a playoff position heading into the final weekend and needed two wins along with other teams to lose to make playoffs. MRU did its job and won both games while MacEwan got upset by the lowly Brandon Bobcats and also finished 12-12 but two spots below MRU.
The Cougars stood tall for as long as they could but couldn’t nudge the conference powerhouse, getting worked in two matches with both being in three sets.
Rookie Dholi Thokbuom was named to the all-Canadian All-Rookie team after her outstanding season saw her rack up 113 kills, 172 points and 58 total blocks in her first season at Mount Royal.
Bert Gilling’s boys in blue had a season that reached the bar but did not exceed it.
The Canada West men’s hockey league is a three-horse-race between the Alberta Golden Bears and the Saskatchewan Huskies battling for one and two in the standings while the Dinos usually end up right behind them, overlooking the rest of the league.
The Cougars finished 12-11-5 that included four overtime losses to Saskatchewan and Alberta which are a step in the right direction in competing against the best the league can offer. Wins would have absolutely changed the course of the Cougar season along with the culture and standards Gilling is trying to build at Mount Royal but the Cougars finished with a 0-8-4 recird against the top three.
The rest of the season boiled down to MRU picking up wins when they should have against the bottom teams while not being able to overcome the hump of defeating any of the top three in the Golden Bears, Huskies and Dinos.
Despite the unpleasing regular season ending, the Cougars shook off the choke-job by beating those same ‘Birds away from home in a three-game thriller.
Reaching the semi-finals yet again, MRU were bested by the Huskies 5-1 and then 7-3 to effectively end the Cougar campaign.
A pair of first-year players honoured as netminder Riley Morris and Colton Kroeker were named to the Canada West all-rookie team.
Morris finished third in the conference for save percentage at .919, as the first-year goalie earned 10 wins in 19 games played.
Kroeker was tied for first in Canada West amongst rookies with 22 points.
Another Cougar squad had its most successful season in university play.
The Cougars also finished with their highest wins and point totals with an 11-14-1-2 record, finishing fifth in Canada West.
Like the men’s team, the Cougars are battling to climb up the standings and be more inside of a fight for the top of the league standings. MRU showed they are slowly beginning to compete with the top three of the league, posing a 3-8-0-1 record against Alberta, UBC and Manitoba.
MRU also shot themselves in the foot by dropping points against the bottom of the league as 5-2-1-0 looks good on paper but when taking into account the Cougars dropped seven points, the difference can be seen.
Finishing fifth, MRU traveled to Saskacthewan but had a tough start to their playoff with a 5-0 loss in game one, but responded with a 3-0 win to even the series. In the decisive game three, MRU suffered absolute heartbreak, getting outlasted 2-1 in triple overtime.
Sophomore Tatum Amy was named to the second-team all-star after putting up 17 points while the Canada West all-rookie team was 50 per cent Mount Royal Cougars as Camryn Amundson, Mackenzie Butz and Breanne Trotter all were selected.
Another MRU team, another milestone.
The men’s ‘ball team squeaked into playoffs with an 8-12 record and finally had the schedule-luck tip on the Cougars side for the first time ever. The MRU basketball team qualified for Canada West playoffs.
Led by graduating senior and team captain Glen Yang, who finished his blue and white career as the leading-getter in points, assists and steals, the Cougars powered through and racked up the wins needed to make the conference championship.
A buzzer-beater from Yang against top-tiered Lethbridge and a final day win against lowly Brandon was enough for MRU to finish above the lower half of the league and secure the final spot in Canada West.
The book was closed early however as the Regina Cougars bested MRU 106-83 to end the MRU season.
Unfortunately, the Cougars women’s ball team had another season to forget despite taking steps in the right direction.
The Cougars did have a major impact on the community as they raised around $1,300 during their USPORTS Shoot For the Cure game in support of breast cancer in late November.
The Cougars finished second-last with a 2-18 record but the numbers early on, had MRU competing for a playoff position.
Coach Nate McKibbon will once again take a rough record into the offseason and will hope his hand-picked recruit class will eventually bloom into MRU success.