Cougars basketball set for success in 2023-24 season
By Zafir Nagji, Staff Writer
In 2022, the Mount Royal Cougars men’s and women’s basketball programs had impressive regular seasons followed by heartbreaking losses in their play-in games. This year though, the Cougars are looking to make a splash in their Canada West conference while contending for two U SPORTS basketball titles.
During the 2022-23 season, the Cougars women’s basketball team managed to balance a fast-paced style of play by taking care of the ball. However, they really shined on the defensive end where they averaged significantly more steals and blocks than their opponents.
Their home record of 8-2 was astounding, but like so many young teams in a variety of sports they struggled on the road — posting a record of 3-7 away from their home court and ended their season with a play-in loss on the road against the University of Winnipeg Wesman.
“Playing at home is definitely an energy thing for all of us,” third-year guard Abbey Wilkenson said.
“It’s much easier to build off of when you have the soccer team come out banging the drums and all your families come out, so it’s a much more welcoming environment versus being on the road, which is definitely tougher.”
Wilkinson, who made the third most three-point shots on the team last season, was one of 73 Cougars to win the 2022-23 U SPORTS Academic All-Canadian Award. Passionate about the game of basketball, she strongly believes in the roster the women’s program will be putting on the hardwood this season.
Mount Royal’s women’s team is depending on their veteran core of fourth- and fifth-year student-athletes to lead their rookie-less roster of second- and third-year players into battle.
Their level of experience and chemistry gives the Cougars a serious chance to win every night and Wilkinson believes the team should aim to make a deep run for the 2023-24 Canada West and U SPORTS National Championship titles.
“We definitely are looking ahead to try to finish in the final four or better,” she said.
“We have an advantage with our depth.”
Mount Royal University’s men’s basketball team also ended their season in the same place as the women’s team, losing in the play-in game after a regular season that left room for improvement.
All but six players on the 2022-23 roster were rookies, so the men’s team also struggled to find wins on the road but excelled at home. The fresh-faced roster finished with a record of 6-4 at home, but 2-8 on the road.
However, the highlight of last year came in the form of a breakout season for guard Holt Tomie. His numbers steadily improved in each of his three years with the Cougars, yet, his greatest season by far was in 2022-23 — averaging a career-high of 23 points-per-game and five assists-per-game. As a result of his incredible season, Tomie was selected to the Canada West second All-Star team.
Going into his fourth year, however, Tomie is focusing on his role as the veteran leader of this squad.
“Last year taught me that sometimes, it’s best to just support people rather than getting on them about stuff,” admitted Tomie.
“For this year, continuing to work on that, looking at not just results-oriented stuff, but being a support guy, a guy they can talk to.”
Cougars ‘b-ball’ fans should be excited to see some improvement in the upcoming season. With the big difference being the level of experience this roster has along with their combination of fast-paced, high-octane offense and a constantly improving defensive scheme.
“We got guys who have actually played meaningful minutes now, so expect us to make better decisions on the court as a team.” Tomie said.
The Mount Royal’s basketball teams will open up their Canada West seasons in Edmonton on Nov. 3 when they take on the MacEwan University Griffins. The women’s game tips off at 6 p.m. while the men’s team will take to the court at 8 p.m.