Similar to their 2007 and 2008 late season stretches, the Rebel men’s basketball team is once again the consensus favourite to capture the Manitoba Colleges Athletic Conference title. But unlike previous seasons, the Rebels plan to have a completely different mindset heading into this year’s Final Four Basketball Championships.
In the two previous conference championship games, head coach Sukhvir Singh has twice seen his team suffer defeat to the Canadian Mennonite University Blazers in close and hard fought battles.
“It’s been a lack of mental focus the last couple years,” said Singh. “CMU plays scrappy, hard basketball. They can shoot the ball. They play tough defense. A team like that – they’re not going to let you just walk in and beat them. The last two years our team has played not to lose, rather than playing to win. We need to play with focus to win.”
With outstanding play from the backcourt trio of Josh Olaes, Kurtis Sansregret, and Jonar Huertas, along with a very deep and talented bench, the team has acquired a collective attitude of confidence and composure. Sansregret and Huertas recently combined for 46 points in an 87-73 exhibition win over their cross-conference rivals from Minot State University-Bottineau.
“Physically, I think we’re better than any other team this year,” said Huertas. “CMU isn’t that big down low. Last game we punished them down low. If we can keep doing that, we should be good to go.”
Despite the undefeated Rebels’ confident swagger, they have had their share of setbacks of recent. Late January saw the flu affecting several players’ ability to practice regularly. More significantly, ankle injuries to starters Josh Olaes and Mike Hebert, as well as the recent graduation of top minute earner Craig Sharpe, the team is now forced to look down the bench for support.
“Sharpe was our best defender too,” said Huertas of his former teammate. “Losing him will probably affect us, but we should be good.”
Sharpe was a three-year starter at Red River. His 8 three-pointers in last year’s championship game garnered much attention from around the conference heading into the 2008-09 season. The deep Rebel bench just might have to prove their worth in order for the Rebels to continue their winning ways.
Sixth man Josh Stolar is a second-year power forward, and one of the players who should provide some of the help. Coach Singh’s mentality of focus and perseverance has apparently inspired the players on his team.
“Staying mentally focused – that is the biggest thing,” said Stolar. “As long as we can stay mentally committed and play our game, it’ll give us a chance to win against any team. We’ve had good games against CMU this year. Each time has been back and forth. It’s going to be a grind out game.”
Red River’s anticipation for achieving some redemption against the Blazers is obvious. Following repeat losses in the last two championship finals, the Rebels’ hunger for a conference title is hard to ignore.
“At this point of the season, you’re not going to get bigger, stronger, or faster,” said head coach Singh. “Focus is key. If we take care of business on our end, I think we’ll have a shot of winning from here on in.”
The MCAC Final Four Basketball Championships take place February 27 and 28 at Red River’s Notre Dame Campus.
By Darrin Bauming