A look ahead to the Cougars 2021/22 season
By Zach Worden, Sports Editor
After coming off of a breakout year for the Mount Royal University (MRU) Cougars, the COVID-19-impacted 2020-21 season couldn’t have come at a worse time. Three teams won Canada West medals in 2019-20 and two had punched tickets to the 2020 U SPORTS national championships before they were cancelled.
In the upcoming 2021-22 season, the Cougars will be looking to pick up right where they left off and continue to make noise in both the Canada West conference and across the country. Here is a look at where each team was when we last saw them and where they’ll look to be upon returning to the court, ice or field.
After a Canada West bronze medal win in 2019, the Cougars men’s soccer team became the first team in Mount Royal history to do so. Not only did the Cougars see the return of U SPORTS Rookie of the Year Dane Domic, but their roster will feature three players who have been selected in the Canadian Premier League (CPL) U SPORTS draft. Moe El Gandour, Victor Loturi and Ethan Keen will all bring professional experience to the team in 2021.
Look for the Cougars to improve upon their successful 2019 and push for a conference championship in the fall.
Despite a tough 2019 season, the Cougars women’s soccer team finished the season on a high note. They won two of their final five games to finish with a 2-10-2 record.
For head coach Tino Fusco and the Cougars, they will see 10 first-year athletes who lost their freshman seasons to COVID-19 take the field for the first time. With a new class of recruits set to come in, the Cougars may lean on some of their young newcomers to turn the program around and turn some heads in 2021.
After becoming the first Mount Royal team to attend a U SPORTS national championship in 2019, the men’s volleyball team lost some key contributors, including all-time leading Canada West point-getter Tyler Schmidt. This led to the program taking a step back in 2019-20.
Since then, the team has only graduated three seniors, which will lead to an experienced group taking the court in 2021-22. They will look to former Canada West all-rookie team members Chris Byam and Luis Lange to lead the way. Lange spent the fall of 2020 training with the Canadian national team.
With a small group of freshmen playing in 2021, the Cougars will be in prime position to make a run at a Canada West medal and a return trip to the national championship.
They are one of the two teams that lost out on their U SPORTS national championship experience thanks to the pandemic. The women’s volleyball team at MRU will look a little different than the team that won a Canada West bronze medal, but they will still feature a group of veterans more than capable of getting back to being one of the best teams in the country.
Dholi Thokbuom and Quinn Pelland will be the two names to watch. The duo was invited to Volleyball Canada’s Women’s Full-time Training Centre in Richmond, B.C. Pelland was named a Canada West second-team all-star in 2019-20 and Thokbuom earned the conference’s first-team all-star honours and was recognized among the best players in the country as a U SPORTS second-team all-Canadian.
With an experienced group that will be motivated to get back to the national tournament, the Cougars will be a group to watch in 2021.
A 3-0 start to the 2019-20 season resulted in a disappointing end for the Cougars as they lost their remaining 17 games.
With multiple fifth-year players, the Cougars may be looking at a youth movement in 2021. Fortunately, many of the Mount Royal freshmen were able to get lots of playing time throughout the 2019-20 season as the team battled injuries to key players.
Nate Petrone ended up on the Canada West all-rookie team and could end up being the focal point of the Cougars’ offence next year. In what is bound to be a different-looking conference than last year, the Cougars may feature some of the newest faces from when we last saw them on the court.
In 2019-20, Cougars head coach Robyn Fleckenstein led the team to its most wins since the 2014-15 season. The team finished just two games out of a playoff spot and made major improvements from the season before.
With a large number of recruits, the Cougars will be on the hunt for their first Canada West playoff appearance. Tanis Metcalfe is transferring to the Cougars from the University of British Columbia, where she played a key role in the Thunderbirds’ run to the Canada West semi-finals.
A successful 2019-20 regular season saw the Cougars finish as the fourth seed in the Canada West. This allowed them to host the first round of the playoffs as they welcomed the fifth seed UBC Thunderbirds to Flames Community Arenas. After a heartbreaking game, the Cougars were set to come back even better for 2020-21.
Now a year later, the men’s hockey team will be losing some of its veteran players, but will still feature a large group from the playoff loss. Throwing in a strong batch of recruits, the Cougars will have a chance to avenge their loss in 2020 and contend for a Canada West medal in 2021-22.
The women’s hockey team at MRU won the school’s first-ever Canada West silver medal. Also finishing as the fourth seed in the conference, the Cougars turned in a magical playoff run that ended in the U SPORTS national championship.
The Cougars knocked off the University of Regina on home ice in the first round, then proceeded to upset the University of Calgary Dinos in a dramatic three-game series that needed two overtimes to determine a winner in game three
The team ultimately lost to the University of Alberta in the finals, but earned themselves a spot in the national championship. There, the team was one of four to get in a game before the tournament was cancelled. In that one game, they once again played the role of underdogs and knocked off the number two seed University of Toronto in overtime, earning a spot in the national semi-finals.
The team was a veteran squad and will be losing some of their senior players, but luckily will have a talented group of youngsters that can carry over the experience from the national tournament to the 2021-22 edition of the Cougars.