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About "David Larkins"

David Larkins has been passionately covering university athletics in Canada over the past 15 years, most recently as a university beat reporter for the Brandon Sun and, prior to that, in southern Ontario where he worked in print, radio and television.

Friday skedline: Who’s where in Canada West playoffs

- February 20th, 2015

Here’s a quick post to get you on top of the Manitoba teams left in the Canada West playoffs, where they’re playing and how you can follow.

WOMEN’S HOCKEY

The Manitoba Bisons take on the Regina Cougars in Game 1 of their best-of-three Canada West opening-round series at Wayne Fleming Arena at 7 p.m.

On Friday the Bisons had five individuals recognized in the Canada West year-end awards. Jon Rempel was named coach of the year for the third time and Alanna Sharman, who lead the league in scoring with 40 points in 28 games, was named rookie of the year. In addition, Rachel Dyck and Michelle Pawluk earned all-CanadaWest second-team honours, while Erica Rieder and Lauryn Keen were all-frosh. Side note: Winnipeg’s Tatiana Rafter, who has had an exception run on the west coast, was named second-team all-star for the UBC Thunderbirds.

MEN’S VOLLEYBALL

The Brandon Bobcats are the last Manitoba volleyball team still playing and they will meet the Trinity Western Spartans in a semifinal at the conference final four in Edmonton at 3 p.m. CT. Winner earns one of two auto berths for Canada West into nationals. Loser will have their nationals hopes ended.

MEN’S BASKETBALL

The Winnipeg Wesmen, who squandered a double-digit lead last night, are back in Kamloops, B.C., hoping to keep their season alive in Game 2 of the best-of-three Canada West first-round series against the Thompson Rivers Wolfpack. Tip time is 7 p.m. CT.

Also tonight, the Bisons tip off their best-of-three series with the Dinos at Calgary, starting at 8 p.m. CT.

WOMEN’S BASKETBALL

The Wesmen get their best-of-three series with the Saskatchewan Huskies underway tonight in Saskatoon. Tip off is slated for 7 p.m. CT.

MEN’S HOCKEY

The Bisons are also in desperation mode tonight after a 5-1 loss at UBC on Thursday night. They’ll play Game 2 of their best-of-three first-round series against the T-Birds tonight at 9 p.m. CT.

NOTE: All games are available for viewing on canadawest.tv.

Twitter: @LarkinsWSun

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Swing Saturday: CIS playoffs in pivotal period

- February 14th, 2015

There’s a lot on the line as playoffs roll out across the country in multiple sports. Let’s start close to home and tee up what’s going on today (Saturday) so you’re up to speed.

MEN’S VOLLEYBALL

* The biggest match of the night goes in Brandon tonight (7 p.m., CanadaWest.tv stream) when the Bobcats, who staved off elimination on Friday, face the Winnipeg Wesmen in Match 3 of the best-of-three Canada West quarter-final.

The No. 4-ranked Bobcats got a school playoff record-high 29 kills from Swiss import Sebastien Steigmeier, and held on for a 15-13 win in the fifth set to avoid the upset at the hands of the upstart No. 7 Wesmen. Winnipeg, which won handily in Match 1 on Thursday, lead 8-7 at the flop, but the Bobcats got critical back-to-back points at 12-12 to get just enough breathing room to finish the thing off.

The winner tonight will move on to the conference Final Four in Edmonton, where first-place Alberta is waiting as host. Only the top two teams from Canada West will earn berths into nationals in Saskatoon.

* The Manitoba Bisons will try to hold off an upset of sorts on home floor tonight (6 p.m.) when they face the UBC Thunderbirds in Match 2 of their quarter-final series. Quentin Schmidt had 19 kills to lead the fifth-place Thunderbirds to a five-set win over the Bisons, who earned the last first-round hosting right by way of finishing in fourth in the conference, a match up on UBC. Devren Dear and Adam DeJonckheere lead the way for Manitoba with 23 and 17 kills respectively.

Match 3, if necessary, would be Sunday at 6 at IGAC.

WOMEN’S VOLLEYBALL

* The Bison women, the defending national champions, got 20 kills from Rachel Cockrell — who was named Canada West MVP earlier in the day — but it wasn’t enough to get past the host UBCO Heat, who rolled to a straight-sets win in Match 1 of their quarter-final series. The Bisons will try to stay alive tonight at 7 p.m. CT in Kamloops, B.C.

* The Brandon Bobcats were the first Manitoba team to have their season ended when they fell in four sets to Trinity Western Friday night in Langley, B.C. The Bobcats, who were as high as No. 2 in the national rankings this season, lost their final three matches — and five of their last seven — to finish in seventh place in the conference and get saddled with the tough first-round series. The loss also wrapped up the eligibility of middle blocker Meaghan Robertson, a Brandon product, and Tori Dakin, a left side from Calgary.

MEN’S BASKETBALL

They’re not in playoffs yet, but their playoff position is now set. The Winnipeg Wesmen, by virtue of an upset loss to Regina on Friday night combined with Manitoba’s loss at UBC, will finish in sixth place in the Canada West’s Pioneer Division, while the Bisons will finish seventh.  Where they will head next week to open the playoffs will be finalized tonight. The Wesmen close the season at home to the Cougars, while the Bisons wrap up their campaign in Vancouver. As the sixth seed from the Pioneer, the Wesmen will head west to play the No. 3 team in the Explorer Division (currently Thompson Rivers), while the Bisons would face the No. 5 team in the Pioneer (currently Calgary).

WOMEN’S BASKETBALL

By virtue of grinding out a win over Regina Friday night, the Wesmen — winners of seven in a row — locked in the No. 4 seed in the Pioneer Division and bought themselves a bye for Week 1 of the post-season in the process. They are likely to head to Edmonton to take on the Alberta Pandas in a best-of-three starting Feb. 27. The Wesmen rode huge efforts from two players to get the win Friday. They got 30 points and 10 rebounds from do-everything all-star Stephanie Kleysen in the win, and another 28 from guard Megan Noonan.

WOMEN’S HOCKEY

Back from a pause due to players and coaches participating in the Universiade, the Bisons returned to action Friday with a 4-1 win over Calgary. (The season-ending game with the Dinos, which could affect final standings, was in action at time of this typing). A win in the season finale combined with a UBC loss would put the Bisons in a coveted top-two spot that garners a first-round bye. A loss and the Bisons will host Regina or Saskatchewan next weekend.

UPDATE: Calgary knocked off the Bisons 4-3 in OT on Senior Night at Wayne Fleming Arena, leaving the Bisons in third place and having to get right into playoff action next weekend. The Bisons will host the sixth-place Regina Cougars for a best-of-three opening-round series that starts Friday.

MEN’S HOCKEY

The men finished off their conference season prior to departing for the Universiade and, as such, all the positions are finalized. The Bisons will hit the road as the five seed in the conference to take on fourth-place UBC in a best-of-three quarter-final that starts Thursday in Vancouver.

ELSEWHERE

The Dalhousie Tigers men’s volleyball team, which features Selkirk’s Shane DeRooy – formerly the No. 1 player in the Sun’s annual high school coaches poll — knocked off UNB for the AUS championship, a title the Tigers have owned over the years. The win was Dal’s third of the past four years and earned the AUS’ berth into the national tournament. The women’s team, with Souris’ Rick Scott as coach, play in a semifinal Saturday night. …

Lakehead, with Winnipeg’s Keith Grondin, faces Western at home leading 1-0 in their best-of-three quarter-final today …

The Brock Badgers, with Swan River’s Evan Morden, head to Windsor for Game 2 of their series looking to pull off an upset over the Lancers after a win in St. Catharines earlier in the week. …

The Toronto Varsity Blues will look to knock out the Ryerson Rams in Game 2 tonight at home. The Varsity Blues are loaded with locals — Connor Cleverley, Dylan Heide and Lane Werbowski of Winnipeg, Paul Van De Velde of Mariapolis, and Brett Willows of Rivers — while Ryerson sports Lucase Froese of Grunthal. …

The Queen’s Golden Gaels, with Winnipeg’s Geordie Maguire and Tyler Moore, try to stave off elimination in Sudbury tonight against the Laurentian Voyageurs.

Twitter: @LarkinsWSun

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Cheering for the enemy?

- February 10th, 2015

One week remains in the Canada West men’s and women’s basketball seasons and, on the men’s side, there exists an awkward relationship.

wesmen

Jordan Clennon, right, and Chris Baxter battle during a Wesmen practice. The U of W men’s basketball team hosts Regina for two games this weekend.

The Winnipeg Wesmen, who a couple of weeks ago swept the Manitoba Bisons to create some separation between the two in the playoff picture, are now in the position of hoping for their crosstown rivals to do them a favour of sorts.

Both teams have clinched a playoff berth — for the Bisons (9-9) its a return to the post-season after a year’s absence — but the Wesmen (11-7) still have an outside shot at moving up into a hosting position as the final weekend plays out starting Friday. The Wesmen will be home favourites against the Regina Cougars for the final two games of the conference season but they will likely be keeping an eye on what happens on the west coast, where the Bisons head to take on the UBC Thunderbirds for a pair. A Manitoba win in either game in the doubleheader, combined with a Wesmen sweep, would give Winnipeg a tie with UBC for fifth in the Pioneer Division and hosting privileges for the first round of the playoffs that start next weekend. By virtue of their sweep of the T-Birds in the first semester, the Wesmen would win the tiebreak for fifth.

The Bisons already know they’ll finish in seventh, with no chance of catching Winnipeg, which owns a tiebreak with U of M by virtue of those two wins last month.

Given that information, lest you think the Bisons don’t have much to play for except for playing out the string, consider a couple of factors:

* The Bisons are losers of five in a row and seven of their last eight — hardly the type of trend on which you want to be riding into the playoffs.

* In the above scenario, with Winnipeg moving into fifth, Manitoba would also ensure its opponent in the first round would be the Wesmen. Two UBC wins against the Bisons this week, means U of M heads back to Vancouver again in a week’s time. Staying at home — even if it isn’t your own gym — is always more favourable than making two west-coast trips in two weeks.

WOMEN

On the women’s side, the stakes are arguably higher for the Wesmen who — theoretically, at least — have a chance to move up as high as the No. 3 seed in the conference. To get there, however, the Wesmen would have to win twice this weekend and hope for Alberta to slip up against 4-14 Lethbridge, which isn’t going to happen and, well, if it does, we’ll discuss that on Saturday night. In the meantime, there’s a very real shot at the No. 4 seed, which would grant the Wesmen not a home-court advantage, but a first-round bye through the so-called play-in round next weekend. In that scenario, they would rest up for Week 1 and then head to Abbotsford, Kamloops, B.C., to take on the No. 1 team in the Explorer Division, the Fraser Valley Cascades Thompson Rivers WolfPack.

So Winnipeg welcomes the Regina Cougars for games Friday (6 p.m.) and Saturday (2 p.m.) with both teams sporting 12-6 records. A split this weekend would not only mean a confidence boost and a bit of payback for a Wesmen team that has long had to watch the Cougars run the show in Canada West, but it would give U of W the tiebreak over the Cougars going down to the No. 2 criterion in the league’s tiebreaking format.

Two losses and Winnipeg will stay home, but be forced to play next weekend, as opposed to getting a week’s rest. In that scenario, they would be likely to get the Calgary Dinos, who they beat twice this season.

It never gets any easier computing this stuff. So, it’s probably just wise to sit and watch and figure out who’s standing where when the dust has settled.

Twitter: @LarkinsWSun

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Playoff prepwork: Canada West gets down to good stuff

- February 9th, 2015

Christmas is a pretty good time of year. Some people, I’ve been told, like Halloween. Some peculiar types get wiggy for Valentines Day, which seems odd.

But, if you take a second and be honest with yourself and look at the calendar while you’re doing so, you will see that we are currently entering one of the best times of year because, as we get a little closer to spring, we start seeing playoff time rolling around in university sports. (It’s at this point I would mention that spring training is on its way, as is March Madness and The Masters. And the NFL Draft. And spring is coming and…).

With national championships in basketball, hockey and volleyball looming, the Canada West gets itself going with playoffs starting this weekend. So, here’s your post-season primer for men’s and women’s volleyball, which opens its second season starting Thursday.

 

VOLLEYBALL (Best-of-three quarter-finals) 

MEN 

6 Winnipeg (13-11) at 3 Brandon (19-5)

The Wesmen parlayed a tremendous first semester that featured just three losses into just their second playoff appearance of the past five seasons. But the Wesmen stumbled in the second half of the year against a much tougher schedule and, as a result, slipped to the bottom half of the standings and into the position of having to go on the road for the first round of the playoffs.

The good news, they don’t have to go far. The bad news, they’re facing one of the hottest teams in the country in the Bobcats, who have won eight of their last nine matches with only a five-set loss to No. 2 Alberta in that stretch.

Both teams are lead by imports, which is nothing new for Brandon, which has made a habit of bringing talent in from outside of Canada. The Wesmen get a good chunk of their attack from Tom Douglas-Powell, who was among the conference’s more efficient outside hitters, with a .279 swing percentage that lead to 3.81 kills per set. Douglas-Powell, who played with the Australian national team in the off-season, has amassed more than 900 kills over the past three seasons.

Meanwhile, No. 4 Brandon boasts one of the best 1-2 punches in Canada West in Suiss right side Sebastien Steigmeier and Kiwi left side Sam Tuivai, a fourth-year senior who has been one of the most menacing outside hitters in the country since arriving in Brandon a few years ago. Steigmeier, a highly-touted recruit who debuted in 2012, notched a career-high 326 kills, while Tuivai, a former CIS all-Canadian and all-tournament star in 2013, had 301.

5 UBC (13-11) at 4 Manitoba (14-10)

Another top-10 match-up pits No. 9 at No. 7 in a battle between the local squad and a squad lead by locals.

The Bisons have been an up-and-down bunch in the second half of the season, but did just enough to snatch the final hosting berth for the first round. If a deep post-season run doesn’t happen for them now, it would seem as though it’s coming soon. Lead by true freshman Devren Dear, the 6-foot-6 right side out of Selkirk, the Bisons graduate no one after this season, and no one after next season, either, a remarkable collection of young talent that makes U of M appear to be poised for big things soon. Not to be forgotten in the Bisons’ youth movement is sophomore Adam DeJonckheere, a CIS all-rookie selection a year ago who backed that up with 282 kills on 672 swings.

Meanwhile, out west, the T-Birds, coached by Brandon-raised Richard Schick, ride a spread-out offence that includes Transcona Collegiate product Jarrid Ireland, the opposite who has experience in the national program and was among the best players in the conference as a freshman.

WOMEN

6 Manitoba (13-11) at 3 UBC-Okanagan (19-5)

A shaky first half of the season doomed the Bisons to an extent. But they’re back in the playoffs for the ninth straight year, going on the road to Kelowna, B.C., to take on the Heat, who have quickly become one of the scarier teams in Canada West since debuting in 2011.

Rachel Cockrell, the senior out of Westwood Collegiate, has posted all-Canadian numbers as the workhorse of the Herd. Cockrell’s usage rate is far and away the highest in the conference, taking 1,272 swings in 2014-15, more than 300 more than the next closest player. Yet Cockrell has been pretty efficient even with all those attempts. She leads the nation in kills and kills per set, but is doing so at a satisfactory .231 efficiency. The Bisons have also been buoyed defensively by junior libero Calie Dobie, who’s third in Canada in digs.

7 Brandon (13-11) at 2 Trinity Western (19-5)

A promising start that had the Bobcats at 6-1 and as high as No. 2 in the country went south by way of a five-losses-in-six-matches stretch in November that included home Ls to home-for-the-playoff squads Regina and Thompson Rivers.

The Bobcats went 0-for-2 in their previous trip to Langley, B.C., — also during that November slide — and have had success when their defensive backbone, libero Donata Huebert, has provided them with a spark. The German import, who was third in the nation in digs, sandwiched between Winnipeg’s Sonia Rossy and U of M’s Dobie, averaged 16.7 digs per match in Brandon’s wins. The Bobcats also need steady play from setter Mary Thomson and a presence from their middles, Meaghan Robertson, the fifth-year senior hoping for one final run for her university career, and Jodie Baker, who combined for 324 kills, the latter also among the conference’s tops in blocks.

Twitter: @LarkinsWSun

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Bisons, Wesmen in key Canada West clash

- January 30th, 2015

8:01 p.m.: We’re getting started in a few moments between the Manitoba Bisons (9-7) and Winnipeg Wesmen (8-6) in the first game of two this weekend as part of the Duckworth Challenge. Starting for Winnipeg: Jordan Clennon, Travis Krahn, Jelane Pryce, Jamar Farley, Ryan Oirbans. For Manitoba: Stephan Walton, AJ Basi, Justus Alleyn, Jonathan Alexander and Wyatt Anders.

Intros are up. Tip is moments away.

FIRST QUARTER UPDATE

Travis Krahn hit back-to-back threes late in the quarter and the Wesmen, fueled by an 11-2 run to start the game, took a 26-15 lead after the first 12 10 minutes. Krahn and Mark McNee both had six to lead the Wesmen, while Clennon added five. The Bisons got five from Anders. The Bisons shot 6-for-15 in the first (40%), while the Wesmen were 9-for-15 (60%) and held the rebounding edge 9-7. The Wesmen also notched four steals in the first quarter that lead to nine transition points.

Foul trouble: Stephan Walton (Bisons) and Ryan Oirbans (Wesmen), two each.

HALFTIME UPDATE

An 8-0 Bisons run got the Winnipeg lead down to 37-31, but the Wesmen got another Krahn 3 late in the quarter and are going into halftime holding a 42-35 edge. Krahn missed just once in six shots from 3 and has 15 to lead all scorers. Basi has 11 to lead the Bisons, who got eight points from Walton, all coming in the second quarter.

The Wesmen lead the rebounding battle 19-17 and shot 15-for-26 (57.7%) from the field, including a fiery 7-for-11 from three. The Bisons are 14-for-36 (38.9%) from the field and 2-for-7 from 3.

To watch: The Bisons have to feel good about being down only seven considering A] how things got out in Winnipeg’s favour from the opening tip and B] the torrid shooting pace of the Wesmen, particularly from the arc.

Also of note, let’s see how much Basi has to give in the second half. He guarded Krahn at times in the first half and that is a task that requires a lot of exertion on the defensive end, so it will be interesting to see how his legs are when the Bisons have the ball. He’s always a key piece of Manitoba’s secondary scoring.

THIRD QUARTER UPDATE

Walton hit a driving layup at the buzzer, but the Wesmen continue to lead, 63-54 with 10 minutes to play. The Bisons got the Wesmen lead down to 51-50 midway through the quarter, but a Basi fastbreak layup was pinned by Pryce and that spurred a 9-2 Wesmen run that garnered them a bit of breathing room.

Krahn continues to lead all scorers with 15, McNee has 11 and Pryce 10 to go with seven rebounds. Basi had 14 on 6-for-11 shooting to lead UM, while Walton, Anders and Jonathan Alexander have 10 each. The Bisons have nine offensive rebounds to Winnipeg’s six, but trail the rebounding battle 27-26.

GAME OVER

Pryce hit a back-breaking three just before a scheduled Bisons timeout to push the lead to 70-56 four minutes into the fourth that for, all intents and purposes, sunk Manitoba.

The Bisons let the game get away with a lot of rushed, and empty, possessions and were never able to find their stroke from deep, going 4-for-18 from beyond. Meanwhile, the Wesmen shot well all night, hitting on 52% of their shots from the field and 53% of their 3s (9 of 17).

Pryce finished with 18, 13 coming in the second half and eight in the fourth quarter. He added eight rebounds and a couple steals, too. Krahn and McNee each added 15 and Denzel Lynch-Blair added a tidy 12 points and nine rebounds off the bench.

Basi finished with 14 to lead the Bisons, who also got 12 each from Walton and Alexander (who was 6 of 7 from the field), 11 from Andre Arruda and 10 out of Wyatt Anders.

To relate to an earlier point: Basi wasn’t the same in the second half, finishing 1 of 8 from the field after the half. And to compound that, the Bisons weren’t able to get much secondary (or primary for that matter) scoring, either. Alleyn (12.2 ppg) was 1-for-10 from the field and Arruda and Walton were both 4-for-10.

The Bisons (9-8) hold a 1 1/2 game lead over the Regina Cougars for the final playoff spot in the Pioneer Division, while Winnipeg inched closer to its third straight playoff berth, moving to 9-6. The teams meet again Saturday at Investors Group Athletic Centre and, after that, the Bisons close the season at UBC, while Winnipeg has four games remaining — at Trinity Western and home to Regina.

@LarkinsWSun

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Live from Day 3 of Wesmen Classic

- December 30th, 2014

6:34 p.m.: High school final with two teams you wouldn’t be surprised to see in the provincial final in March. Oak Park on a run here to lead Garden City 37-26 with a couple minutes left in the second quarter.

UPDATE, 6:41 p.m.: Oak Park holds its lead into halftime, up 39-29.

 

UNIVERSITY THIRD-PLACE FINAL A.J. Basi had 15 of his 20 points in the fourth quarter and the Manitoba Bisons rallied to beat the Brandon Bobcats 77-75 in the third-place game Tuesday afternoon. Wyatt Anders had 10 points and 15 rebounds, and import Alfreeman Flowers added 16 and 12 for the Bisons, who finished the tournament 2-1 following a loss to Winnipeg in Monday’s semifinal. Mike Holloway chipped in with 13 points for Manitoba, which played the tournament without starting senior guard Stephan Walton, who sat with injury. Earl Thompson Jr.’s 11 points and 10 rebounds lead five Bobcats in double figures in scoring. UPDATE, 6:57 p.m.: Oak Park is taking this thing over. Now leading 54-31 midway through the second quarter. Garden City has won four Classics in a row and six of the last seven. UPDATE, 7:04 p.m.: Garden City went on a 12-2 run to cut the lead a more manageable deficit. Trail now by 15. UPDATE, 7:15 p.m.: Garden City on another run here and has the lead down to single digits for the first time since the second quarter. 62-53, OP UPDATE, 7:20 p.m.: Back to back GC triples and the lead is down to 6. UPDATE, 7:25 p.m.: Garden City with a big run to get it to five, then refs intervene and foul out GC’s Marcel Arruda-Welch on a softy. Because refs don’t like fun. Oak Park is going to end Garden City’s run, with a 77-68 victory. UNIVERSITY FINAL Ref crew is Earl Roberts, Rick Degagne and Reid Kenyon as we get set for Alberta-Winnipeg  

UPDATE, 8:18 p.m.: After 1Q, Alberta leads Winnipeg 12-11 in a brick-filled Duckworth Centre.

UPDATE, 8:35 p.m.: Timeout with 2:16 to go in first half and Wesmen, who had a 14-3 run, now lead 30-24.

UPDATE, 8:39 p.m.: At the half, Winnipeg 33, Alberta 27. Dunk final coming up

DUNK COMPETITION:

THE WINNER

THE RUNNER-UP

UPDATE, 9:25 p.m.: 50-49 here Wesmen ahead in the fourth quarter of the university final. Alberta has been kitchen-sinking the Wesmen with every defensive look you can imagine. Alberta has done well to slow down UW’s transition, which it really thrives off.

UPDATE, 9:33 p.m.: Alberta has gotten next to nothing out of Friesen (5 pts), but Otieno has been a grown man. Layup gives him 22; UA up 61-57 with 1:31 to go

UPDATE, 9:39 p.m.: Alberta will have the ball with a 63-62 lead and 13.9 seconds left on the clock

UPDATE, 9:42 p.m.: Otieno makes one of two, Farley has a good look at a corner 3 that clangs out, and Alberta survives 64-62 to win

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Huskers go Riley route; hire former Blue Bombers coach

- December 4th, 2014

Former Winnipeg Blue Bombers coach Mike Riley is moving on to a new gig.

Riley, who coached the Bombers to two Grey Cup victories including the franchise’s most recent win in 1990, was named the head coach of the Nebraska Cornhuskers on Thursday, a move that caught almost everyone off-guard.

Riley has been a longtime, loyal coach at Oregon State where he turned a moribund program into a respectable contender in the Pac-12. Riley had two stints with the Beavers in Corvallis, Ore., the most recent starting in 2003 when he returned from a three-year run with the NFL’s San Diego Chargers.

rileygrant

Former Blue Bombers coaches Mike Riley (left) and Bud Grant sit for a group photo in 2010 as the franchise honoured some of its greatest alumni at its 80th anniversary celebration. (Kirk Penton/Winnipeg Sun)

Riley has always been remembered fondly in Winnipeg and most recently visited in 2010 when he was among the Bomber greats recognized as the franchise celebrated its 80th anniversary.

Riley takes over a Nebraska program that won at least nine games in each of its seven years under fired coach Bo Pelini, who was dismissed on Sunday. In Lincoln, he will have more financial resources and better program infrastructure behind him than he experienced at Oregon State, which is dwarfed by in-state rival Oregon, a Nike-sponsored superpower.

Among many media that cover the NCAA, and the coaches employed in it, Riley was lauded for being a class act and one of the nicest coaches in the game. But Winnipeggers, of course, already knew that.

What follows is some of the effusive praise showered on Riley by those in the know south of the border:

 

Uteck two-step: Manitoba, Montreal seek big-dance berth

- November 21st, 2014

The Manitoba Bisons are one win away from a berth in the Vanier Cup, playing a semifinal Saturday as part of what has become an improbable playoff run.

The past two seasons have been filled with great expectations for the Bisons, with coach Brian Dobie’s recruiting classes starting in 2010 largely built with the hopes of these past couple of seasons in mind. The Bisons indeed believed big things were in the plans for 2014, but the path to get where they are today was far from smooth. Injuries and inconsistencies butt in on all they planned to accomplish and it should not be forgotten U of M’s path to Saturday Uteck Bowl contained more improbabilities than just the upset last weekend in Calgary. The Bisons needed a win in Calgary in Week 8, plus a Regina win over Alberta in Week 8 to help them avoid Calgary in the Canada West semifinal; a win at Saskatchewan in the semifinal and then the momentous victory last Saturday.

And yes much has been made about the who-are-these-guys final four of CIS football this year, with Manitoba joined by Montreal, the team that really shook things up with a stunning victory over Laval just hours before the Bisons’ win. Throw in undefeated Mount Allison, which was 0-8 just three seasons ago, and you’ve got three teams with varying chips on their shoulder joining perennial power McMaster as the last teams left chasing a national title.

So you’re well aware of what the Bisons bring to the table, let’s give you a briefing on the team they’ll be facing Saturday (11:30 a.m. CT, Sportsnet 360):

MONTREAL CARABINS
If you didn’t know there was another football team in Montreal outside of the Alouettes, you could be excused somewhat. Yet the Carabins have been doing fine work for years under the cover of the large shadow cast by their provincial rival Laval, the machine from Quebec City whose success has rendered Montreal nearly invisible. The Other U of M has gone 66-25 over the past 11 seasons, including an 8-0 record in 2004 that (of course) ended with a playoff loss to Laval.

So the Carabins, who hovered between No. 2 and 5 in the national rankings and come in having won nine in a row, bring a significant test for the Bisons, who will be considered an underdog once again.

STATS
Regular season offence points (33.9 ppg): 2nd RSEQ / 9th CIS
Regular season offence total yards (448.9 ypg): 3rd RSEQ / 15th CIS
Regular season offence passing (312.5 ypg): 2nd RSEQ / 6th CIS
Regular season offence rushing (136.4 ypg): 4th RSEQ / 19th CIS
Regular season defence points (12.5 ppg): 2nd RSEQ / 3rd CIS
Regular season defence total yards (301.6 ypg): 2nd RSEQ / 2nd CIS
Regular season defence passing (183.4 ypg): 1st RSEQ / 1st CIS
Regular season defence rushing (118.2 ypg): 3rd RSEQ / 6th CIS

PERSONNEL 
QB Gabriel Cousineau. The fourth-year senior pivot had a CIS-best 71.9% completion rate, and threw just three interceptions against 14 touchdowns. Unlikely to beat you with his legs.

LB Byron Archambault. A 6-foot, 240-lb. menace, Archambault is the RSEQ defensive MVP after finishing second in the nation in sacks with nine. He had a sack, six tackles and a forced fumble last weekend.

SB Mikhail Davidson. A RSEQ all-star, Davidson was a top-10 receiver in the CIS compiling 43 catches for 769 yards and a team-leading seven touchdowns.

THE COACH
Danny Maciocia is in his fourth season at the helm of the Carabins, posting a 26-8 record overall, 4-3 in the post-season.

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Twitter: @LarkinsWSun

Around the Canada West: Weekend edition

- November 9th, 2014

The big story for Manitoba university sports fans this weekend was the Bisons’ come-from-behind win over the Saskatchewan Huskies in a Canada West football semifinal Friday night in Saskatoon.

As I wrote about earlier this week, the Bisons were thrown into an inconvenient road trip with no hotel rooms available Friday in Saskatoon, leaving them to stay in Prince Albert, an hour-plus drive away. But the Bisons overcame that — and a 19-point deficit, too — to knock off the Huskies and move on to the conference final for the second straight year.

A few tidbits on that game and what lays ahead:

• Not only was that was the first time the Bisons had won a playoff game at Saskatchewan, it was the first time the two teams had met in the playoffs in Saskatoon.
• Prior to the win, the Bisons were 1-3 in the post-season against Saskatchewan.
• It was the second straight year the teams met in a semifinal, with Manitoba winning last year in Winnipeg. And it will be the second straight year the Bisons will travel to Calgary for the conference final.

The Dinos eviscerated the Regina Rams 56-0 in the other semifinal on Saturday, scoring 33 points in the second quarter alone. The Dinos only on-field loss of the season came in the conference finale against the Bisons, who defeated Calgary for the first time since 2007. The Dinos finished 6-2 with their other loss coming via forfeiture for playing an ineligible player in a win over Alberta earlier in the year.

Kickoff in Calgary will be 3 p.m. Manitoba time on Saturday with Shaw providing TV coverage.

A few other notes from the weekend:

• The Bisons men’s volleyball team snapped the UBC T-Birds’ six-match win streak and improved to 6-4 on the season with a four-set win Saturday night. The playoff picture, albeit very early, has a strong Manitoba presence with all three local schools in the top seven.

• Meanwhile the Wesmen men’s volleyball team is among the hottest in the nation riding a six-match win streak to sit at 7-1 in third place in the conference. A big disclaimer though: The Wesmen piled up those six wins off the conference’s bottom-feeders Regina, UBCO and Grant MacEwan, who are a combined 1-26 thus far this season. The tough stuff starts next weekend as U of W takes two straight trips to the west coast, first at Thompson Rivers, then at UBC the following weekend.

• Brandon’s women’s volleyball team had its five-match winning streak snapped with a straight-sets loss to Thompson Rivers. Still, BU is 6-2 and in second place in the conference, not to mention No. 1 in Manitoba with the Wesmen (4-4) and Bisons (4-6) trailing behind.

• It’s unlikely anyone would have said U of W, especially after suffering two key injuries just before the season began, would have a better win percentage at any point this season than the defending-champion Bisons. Full marks to the Dubs for what they’ve done so far.

• I’m a member of the CIS men’s hockey ranking committee and I tweeted on the weekend that I was going to keep the Bisons in my top 10 ballot. But when it came down to filing it Sunday night, I just couldn’t do it. U of M has looked like a top-10 team this season, but two losses at Lethbridge a couple of weekends back cloud over even a spirited effort in two losses at home to No. 1 Alberta this weekend.

• On the women’s side, the Bisons haven’t cracked the top 10 yet this season, but they simply have to be in there on Tuesday when the latest poll is released. They are now 7-2-1, including a split at No. 3 Alberta on the weekend. No way they should be forgotten now.

• In women’s basketball, the Wesmen are a perfect 4-0 and could crack the national top 10 on Tuesday. U of W was ranked 12th last week. On the men’s side, the Bisons came back from a double-digit deficit to beat the Cougars in Regina, which is always a difficult place for visiting teams to win. Manitoba is now 3-1 while Winnipeg is 2-2 with a road trip to Saskatoon up this weekend. The Bisons are home to 0-4 Brandon.

• Outside the Canada West, the York Lions won the national men’s soccer title on Sunday with a 1-0 victory over OUA rival McMaster. Former Winnipegger Dylan Sacramento, who has played in the province’s provincial program, logged 63 minutes for York, which also has Winnipeg’s Jack Taylor on the roster, although he appeared in just one match this season. Sacramento is the brother of former Wesmen star Kenny Sacramento.

• On the women’s side, Laval blanked Trinity Western 5-0. The Western Mustangs, meanwhile, beat Montreal 2-0 in the fifth-place game. The Mustangs have sophomore Jenna White, a Winnipegger who scored a goal in WU’s 2-0 consolation semifinal win over Memorial on Friday.

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Twitter: @LarkinsWSun

BU adding to burgeoning wall of fame

- October 16th, 2014

It’s Homecoming in Brandon this weekend and the university is adding to its growing wall of honour for athletes and builders as part of the festivities.

The Dick and Verda McDonald Sports Wall of Fame, itself just a year old, will grow with the enshrinement of eight athletes and three teams at Homecoming Weekend in the Wheat City.

  • Sandra Hamilton Athlete, Women’s Basketball (1990-93)
  • David Dominique Athlete, Men’s Basketball (1986-89)
  • Larry Rodenbush Athlete, Football/Men’s Basketball (1968-74)
  • Bob Simmons Athlete, Football/Men’s Basketball/Track and Field (1955-60)
  • Shannon Larkins Community Leader, Women’s Basketball (1987-92)
  • Jerry Hemmings Builder, Men’s Basketball (1974-2014)
  • Doug Steeves Builder, Football/Men’s Hockey/Administration (1967-95)
  • George Birger Builder, Men’s Basketball/Women’s Basketball/Men’s Hockey/Administration (1978-87)
  • Men’s Basketball CIAU National Championship teams (1987-89)

The wall of fame was granted its home in the new Healthy Living Centre and named in honour of a pair of Brandon boosters who are eminently worthy of having their names attached to such a high honour. Dick McDonald passed away last month and that was a shaking bit of news for anyone who’d ever had the pleasure of dealing with him. McDonald was one of the most loyal and committed supporters of BU athletics, a diehard basketball backer who regularly accompanied the teams to Halifax for what used to be regular national championship tournament appearances. His courtside seat was always occupied at the old BU Gym and he never turned down a chance to talk sports with the locals. He was a tremendously kind, unfailingly genuine man whose presence around games at BU will be sorely missed. This weekend will be much different without him there.   

Yes the last name of one of the inductees is the same as mine. My sister played for BU for five seasons starting in the late 80s after being recruited out of Kelvin in 1987. Her time there happened to coincide with the finest years of the Bobcats men’s basketball team, though on-court success for the BU women was few and far between. Still, she is part of the last Brandon women’s basketball team to be ranked in the national top 10 — when the Cats were No. 10 for a couple of weeks following an upset of powerful Manitoba that still stands as one of the best wins in program history.

Tangentially then, because of my sister’s history at the school, I’ve had loose connections to BU and Brandon for parts of three decades. I grew up as an impressionable young hoops fanatic kid watching those great BU men’s teams, while bragging that my sibling played university ball. I wore BU practice jerseys in my own school gym; rocked anything she’d hand me down with a Bobcat on it through the halls of River Heights Junior High and Kelvin; and was surely always linked to Brandon by my teammates who’d shake their head at my Brandon loyalties.

When I later cut my teeth as a full-time sports reporter there from 2003-2011, covering the Bobcats, it was always a bit surreal to me that I was covering the teams I was watching when I was 12 years old.

Brandon being a tight-knit community, and it’s sporting community even more so, you easily foster relationships with the people who have spent much of their lives building the foundations of sport in the community. Whether it’s BU or the Brandon Wheat Kings, there is a discernible lineage from one generation to the next and the names listed above represent that.

I can say great things about each of the people in that list that I encountered over the years. I never met Mr. Birger or Mr. Simmons, but everyone else in that list I have some personal recollection.

Sandra Hamilton was the best female basketball player I’ve ever watched in person. And I’ve watched a lot of basketball. She shied away from no one and, to this day, I wonder what on earth she was doing in Brandon, Manitoba. You could make a case for her being the top five pound-for-pound athletes to ever suit up at Brandon.

David Dominque was a special type of basketball player who, truthfully, had no business playing in Canada based on his skill level. A Division I talent, Dominique came to Brandon through some unbecoming circumstances, but boy could he play. A physical freak, as far as CIAU basketball was concerned. And watching those Brandon teams that won three national championships in a row was some of the most joy I’ve ever had watching the game I love the most. Watching them was what really, really hooked me on the game.

Larry Rodenbush was teaching at Vincent Massey High School by the time I got to Brandon. He raised a family there with kids who were each as likeable and kind as he is. He was one of the first contacts I had when I began reporting in Brandon and instantly became one of my favourites.

I’ve never met anyone who absorbs basketball like Jerry Hemmings. He has his detractors, but even they will acknowledge the longtime head coach who lead BU to four national championships was among the hardest workers and best Xs and Os coaches in Canada. Every chance he had to be around the game, he took it. And he’s a big reason why anyone had ever heard of Brandon University in the 80s and 90s.

Doug Steeves was just a beautiful human being. A gracious, giving and committed man who was the face of football in Brandon for decades — the patriarch of all three high school programs in the city, and the man who was on the sideline of every game he could be at until his final days.

Finally, my sister was to me the hardest working player on the floor at all times. I played every sport I could growing up, but it was basketball I clung to largely because of her. From the moments dribbling a ball in the basement with her cajoling me to work on my left hand, to back-lane one-on-ones to getting invites to practice with her high school team, I fell in love with the sport at an early age and now, as I look at one of her young daughters growing up with a twinkle in her eye for the sport, I can’t wait to see the passion grow in her the way it did in me.

There’s no doubt she”ll have the right teacher.

Congratulations to all the inductees. See you soon, Brandon.

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Twitter: @LarkinsWSun