It’s November, barely, so why not completely jump the gun and start putting some “must-win” labels on Manitoba’s teams.
Is it irrational? Yes. But, if I may say, irrational is what I do best.
Take with a grain of salt and call me in the morning.
This actually isn’t jumping the gun. The Manitoba Bisons need to find a winning streak and, already three points out of the final playoff spot, they need to start soon. The 3-6-1 Bisons take on 5-2-3 UBC in a weekend doubleheader at Max Bell that starts Friday night. Only Saskatchewan trails U of M in the Canada West standings, so there’s a certain urgency with every game from here on out if the Bisons are to start making a climb in hopes of avoiding the playoffs for the second straight season.
The Bisons have begun to heal thyselves by way of a five-wins-in-six-games string that turned things around after a challenging start to the season in which they went 1-3. The Bisons have scored 11 out of a possible 12 points in that stretch and have put themselves right in the heart of the conference standings, tied for third at 6-3-1 with UBC and Regina . And, wouldn’t you know it, the Thunderbirds and Cougars are next on the docket over the next two weekends, starting Friday in Vancouver. U of M closes the first half of the conference schedule against No. 1 Alberta, so putting in work now would be advised for the Herd if they’re hoping for a happy holiday.
With all due respect to Manitoba (now 2-2) and Brandon, the only team in this province who has a remote shot at making the Canada West post-season is the Winnipeg Wesmen, and even they will be hard-pressed. After starting 0-4 (the latest defeats being two expected setbacks to Regina), the Wesmen get a chance to turn things in the right direction with a home-and-home Thursday-Saturday double-bill against Brandon. Trinity Western, Thompson Rivers and UBC-Okanagan also loom on the schedule before the break, so there’s some light ahead for the Wesmen if they hope to turn things around right away.
I said in a previous post all three Manitoba teams are capable of making the post-season in the Canada West, although I’ll be utterly stunned if that happened. Still, for the Manitoba Bisons and Winnipeg Wesmen, at least, the playoff hopes are a bit more tangible after 2-2 starts put them in a four-way tie for third. Brandon, at 1-3, has to hope to hang around without the services of starters Emerick Ravier and post Isaiah James, both of whom have been injured to date. Manitoba got to its .500 record with a quality split at Calgary, and then suffered a setback to Brandon last Friday before rebounding on Saturday. Winnipeg dug itself a small hole with two losses at Lethbridge, before returning home and looking utterly dominant against Regina. Manitoba has the traditionally tough road trip to Abbotsford (No. 8 Fraser Valley) and Langley (Trinity Western) this weekend, but there could be a win in there. TWU is in a down year and Fraser Valley, ranked highly in the pre-season poll, has dipped and sits at 2-2 in its first season under Winnipeg-raised Adam Friesen. There is certainly some urgency for the Bobcats, who must see this weekend series with Winnipeg as critical to staying in the post-season discussion.
It may already be a lost season for the Wesmen, who have started 0-5 after dealing with the defection of setter Brittany Habing. Now with freshman Hope Schneider thrust into that role and still dealing with the issues at middle blocker that they knew in the off-season would likely be their biggest area of weakness, the Wesmen are watching everyone run away in the standings, now 3.5 matches back of the final playoff spot heading into Regina this weekend.
The Bisons, meanwhile, are in a pretty good spot at 4-1 with their lone loss of the season coming last weekend in Brandon. A sneaky challenge against UBCO (4-2) this weekend in Kelowna gives the Bisons another test before two winnable matches next weekend at home to Thompson Rivers. Then, to close the first half, its home matches against powerhouse UBC and one against Winnipeg. Now in third place with a handful of teams right behind, the Bisons are in a position to generate their own wealth should they take care of business.
Brandon, now 4-2, has been a slight surprise to date and will get a quality test in Calgary this weekend against expansion Mount Royal, also 4-2. The Cougars have earned splits with both UBCO and Calgary thus far and a similar fate this weekend wouldn’t be stunning. But the Bobcats have a chance to make a statement with a solid effort at MRU. With the Calgary Dinos in town next weekend and a home-and-home with Winnipeg to close the month and the first half of the season, Brandon has some winnable games on the docket to boost its totals.
Push the sense of urgency up for the Wesmen, who — at 2-3 — are on the ledge of the post-season window, as they were for much of last season before falling short on the last weekend of the season. With 0-6 Regina next up (on the road), the Wesmen need two wins without question, considering their three weeks after that consist of No. 2 Trinity Western, No. 6 Brandon and No. 4 Manitoba.
A 4-1 mark is probably expected for the Bisons, whose toughest test to date came last weekend in Brandon, where they escaped with a split after losing in five on Friday and narrowly threw one away after a 2-0 lead turned into a five-set victory on Saturday. It will be a busy next few weeks for U of M with seven matches up to Dec. 4. UBCO, Thompson Rivers, UBC and Winnipeg will provide some tough terrain before the break, but there can be no excuses for a team that itself believes is national-title worthy.
In their first season under interim head coach Grant Wilson, the Bobcats have taken care of business with two wins at Regina plus splits with TRU and U of M. A chance to put their foot down comes this weekend at Mount Royal, which finds itself tied with BU at 4-2. Three of their final four matches after that will be at home (Calgary and Winnipeg), meaning the Bobcats would be advised to take advantage of whatever they can while they can — matches at No. 2 Trinity Western and home to No. 1 Alberta and No. 8 UBC are among the stiff tests that still await in 2013.