New Year’s resolutions for Bison sports teams

Manitoba’s clubs have much to look forward to in the New Year

Hailey Lavarias and Amanda Wong embrace after Wong's opening goal for Manitoba. The Bisons won 5-1.Hailey Lavarias and Amanda Wong embrace after Wong's opening goal for Manitoba against the Guelph Gryphons in the consolation semifinal. Photo by Jeff Miller.

When the clock struck midnight on Monday, a new year filled with new possibilities for University of Manitoba sports teams began. Here are some of the highlights, as well as some resolutions for Bison sports teams in 2018.

Men’s hockey

2017 Highlight: Emergence of new talent

New Year’s resolution: Make some noise in the playoffs

With a 9-5-2 record heading into the holiday break, the Bisons currently sit third in Canada West, placed a comfortable five points ahead of the 7-8-1 University of British Columbia Thunderbirds. Within those nine wins was a scrappy 4-3 victory over the second place Saskatchewan Huskies.

This year saw the Bisons lose their captain and top offensive weapon Jordan DePape due to graduation. The local product and former Kamloops Blazer scored at – or near – a point-per-game pace throughout his four seasons with the Bisons. This included 41 points in 28 games in the 2015-16 season. In his absence, Michael St. Croix (19 points), Kamerin Nault (16 points), and Zach Franko (14 points) have stepped up.

The third-place Bisons are well on their way to a playoff berth, and should look to crash-and-bang their way through the postseason.

Women’s hockey

2017 Highlight: Awards, international attention, and a great record

New Year’s resolution: Championship or bust

Manitoba is enjoying early success, ranked first nationally with a 12-4-0 record through the first half of the season. The women started the year with a tough stretch, playing the University of British Columbia, Alberta, and Saskatchewan in the first three weeks of the season. Following a 3-3-0 record to start, the herd rattled off nine straight wins to catapult them to the top of the standings.

The Bisons have also enjoyed the emergence of some new talent to go along with the veterans on the squad, chief among them being goaltender Lauren Taraschuk. The rookie has been phenomenal so far this season, posting a Canada West leading 0.96 goals against average and six wins.

Offensively, Manitoba has been just as good, with three Bisons in the top five in Canada West scoring. Jordyn Zacharias is currently first in conference scoring, recording nine goals and five assists through 16 games, while Venla Hovi and Alanna Sharman are tied for third with 12 points apiece.

This time around, the Bisons are poised for further success, and there is nothing left for them to prove except a national championship.

Football

2017 Highlight: Another NFL product

New Year’s resolution: Regroup, reload, and re-attack

To say the 2017 season was a disappointment for the Bison football team would be an understatement. Following a rough 3-5 season in 2016, the Bisons dropped even further, tying the Saskatchewan Huskies for last in Canada West with a 2-6 record.

A silver lining was the strong return of running back Jamel Lyles. The 22-year-old placed third in Canada West with 110 rushes and 6.3 yards per rush. He also ranked fourth in yards (691) and yards per game (86.4), and his four rushing touchdowns were second only to Ed Ilnicki of Alberta.

Following the end of the 2016 season, offensive lineman Geoff Gray turned pro with the Green Bay Packers, and recently signed with the Cleveland Browns.

Women’s soccer

2017 Highlight: Hosting the 2017 National Championship and beating Guelph

New Year’s resolution: Build on this past season

The 2017 season was a big one for the Bisons women’s soccer team, who served as host for the U SPORTS National Championship in November.

Manitoba posted a 4-7-3 record in Canada West, finishing sixth in the Prairie Division before losing in the playoff play-in game to UBC. In the national championship, the club fared better, losing 4-0 to Trinity Western before rattling off a 5-1 win over the University of Guelph in the consolation semifinal and losing 4-1 to the University of Victoria in the consolation final, to finish sixth.

In the New Year the Bisons have much to improve on, and the postseason work shows they have potential. The soccer team should aim to find the silver linings from the year and come back stronger in 2018.

Women’s volleyball

2017 Highlight: Return of national champions

New Year’s resolution: Make the playoffs

Head coach of the women’s volleyball team Ken Bentley was able to bring back two former national champions in setter Brittany Habing and middle Emily Erickson this year. Having the experience and talent of those two plus the continued development of the younger players on this team, things are looking good for Manitoba.

So far this season, the Bisons are 5-7 and sit in ninth place in the Canada West. The 2017 calendar year didn’t start out so well for the Bisons, as they won 3-0 over Winnipeg on Jan. 7 and proceeded to go on a 12-game losing streak to end the 2016-17 season.

It’s a whole new season, and the Bisons will aim to get back into the playoffs this year, and they have the team to do it.

Men’s volleyball

2017 Highlight: Hosting Canada West Final Four

New Year’s resolution: Stay afloat

2017 was a roller coaster ride for the Bison men’s volleyball team. One of the most dominant teams in the country, the Bisons finished with a 21-3 record and were ranked number one in Canada.

Manitoba had the chance to host the Canada West Final Four back in March but fell just short to the eventual national champion Trinity Western Spartans. The atmosphere in the Investors Group Athletic Centre was simply electric, with fans raucous throughout the weekend. Manitoba eventually finished fifth at nationals in Alberta.

For 2018, Manitoba needs to recoup from losing a wealth of fifth-year starters. They are nowhere near last season’s success, but sit at seventh in the Canada West with a 5-7 record. Some playoff experience will do wonders for head coach Garth Pischke’s young squad.

Women’s basketball

2017 Highlight: Getting in the win column

New Year’s resolution: Make the playoffs

In the 2017 calendar year, the Bisons won nine games, with six of them coming in the first half of the 2017-18 season. So far this season, the Bisons have already surpassed their win total from last year, with a 6-6 record.

Led offensively by Taylor Randall, who is averaging a team best 14.7 points per game, and Emma Thompson is not far behind, averaging 13.3 points per game. Nicole Konieczny is averaging a team best 7.6 rebounds a game, with Claire Harvey averaging 6.3. Typically in the basement of the Canada West, this Bison team should expect a playoff appearance this season.

Men’s basketball

2017 Highlight: Run to nationals

New Year’s resolution: Maintain course

Last season, not many people pegged the Bisons to make it all the way to Halifax for the U SPORTS National Championships, but Manitoba did it. After upsetting the UBC Thunderbirds in the quarter-finals, the Bisons continued their Cinderella run by beating Calgary in the semifinals at the Canada West Final Four. They lost in the finals to Alberta, but had already booked their ticket to nationals.

Manitoba lost both their games at nationals, but the fact they made it had many across Canada raising their eyebrows. Head coach Kirby Schepp has had to deal with a cornucopia of player turnover, including the losses of Keith Omoerah, AJ Basi, and Brett Jewell, but this team has been able to find ways to win.

Heading into the 2018 calendar year, the Bisons are fifth in the Canada West with an 8-4 record, led offensively by senior guard Justus Alleyn and sophomore forward James Wagner.