Mount Royal Cougars Aim to Build Off First U Sports Playoff Appearance

Yang, Glen
Leading scorer Glen Yang is one of several key contributors gone for Mount Royal heading into 2019-20. (Source: Free Agency Basketball) (Header: Mount Royal Athletics)

CALGARY, Alta. — If you’re reading this, it’s not too late.

The 2019-20 basketball season is right around the corner, and we’re here to help you get set for what will surely be an incredible journey.

While we’re still looking back on an incredible 2018-19 season, one that saw two teams win their first-ever National Championships in school history, it’s also the perfect time to look ahead. The 2019-20 season promises to deliver a heightened level of excitement, and we can’t wait to see what’s in store for the new campaign.

To get fans across the country ready for the new season, we’ve taken on a challenge that hasn’t been done before. In the coming weeks, we will preview every team from coast to coast ahead of the 2019-20 season.

That’s 111 different programs, if you’re keeping a tally.

From August 8th through to October 6th, every team will be previewed in some capacity. For institutions that have both men’s and women’s basketball, a separate preview piece will be done for each team.

Rosters will be dissected and a look back at the year that was will help us determine what the team looks like this time around as every team begins with a blank slate in the standings.

Without further adieu, here is today’s preview on the men’s basketball program for the Mount Royal Cougars.

2018-19 in Review

For the Cougars, the 2018-19 season was one to remember even though the team finished below .500 in Canada West play. Mount Royal and their fans had to sweat down the stretch, but the program achieved a monumental first since joining the U Sports ranks on the final day of the regular season.

The Cougars posted a record of 8-12 over the 20-game regular season in the Canada West, but it was the 20th game that will be remembered by most. On the road against the Brandon Bobcats, the Cougars needed a win to secure the final playoff spot in the league. With a loss, the Cougars would have missed the playoffs and had to wait another season for their first trip to the post-season at the U Sports level.

On the road, the Cougars made history.

Mount Royal secured their first-ever playoff spot with a 99-94 win over the Bobcats. It was just their second win of the winter semester, but it was one of the biggest wins in recent memory for the program.

With the win, the Cougars secured the 12th seed in the Canada West playoffs. As a result, they went on the road to take on the 5th seed with a spot in the quarterfinals on the line. Mount Royal would take on the Regina Cougars in the play-in game, and a hot start had people thinking upset early on.

In the first quarter, Mount Royal came out of the gates strong. The visitors built some momentum and took a 27-20 lead into the second frame, leading to some optimism that there would be some playoff magic. Instead, Regina found their groove in the second quarter, flipping a seven-point deficit into a 13-point advantage for themselves before the first half was out.

Regina led 56-43 at the break, and they never looked back in the second half. The host Cougars knocked off Mount Royal, 106-83, thus ending their 2018-19 season in the process.

Looking ahead to the 2019-20 season, the Cougars have plenty to build on from last year’s play. Their ability to clinch a playoff spot, on the road no less, shows that they can contend and win games when there’s something big on the line.

Mount Royal will need to replace several key contributors from last year’s history-making team, as their group of departures is headlined by their top two scorers.

Who’s Gone?

After making history for the program last season, several faces have moved onto the next chapter of their respective basketball careers. Among the departing players, you’ll find the Cougars’ top two scorers from last season, along with other key players who took on various roles with the program.

Atop the list is guard Glen Yang (Calgary, Alta.). Last season, the 6’4” graduate student averaged a team-best 16.5 points per game on 41.9% shooting from the floor and 36.9% from beyond the arc. Yang also averaged 6.0 rebounds and 2.8 assists per game. He was an underrated guard on the national scale, and his impact on both ends of the floor will surely be missed by the Cougars going forward.

Also gone is fellow graduate student LJ Hegwood (Calgary, Alta.). The hometown product finished second in scoring behind Yang last season, averaging 14.7 points to go along with a team-high 7.4 rebounds per contest. Hegwood’s athleticism and scoring ability will be tough to replace.

The pair of Kristian Zjak (Point Cook, Australia) and Charn Gill (Chestermere, Alta.) gave the Cougars significant contributions off the bench last season, and their departures will open up a pair of roles for newcomers and returning veterans alike to expand their role with the program early on.

Rounding out the group of key losses is guard Samuel Willis III (Minneapolis, Minn.). Last season, the fourth-year guard posted 8.3 points, 3.5 rebounds, and 1.7 assists per game while being a big part of the rotation.

In terms of production, Head Coach Marc Dobell and his staff lose their share with the top two scorers on the way out. However, with a larger group of returnees back for another run at the playoffs, Dobell has players at his disposal who will look to expand their role with the team.

Who’s Back?

The Cougars lose their top two scorers from last year and three others who saw regular action, putting holes all throughout the lineup. Fortunately for Coach Dobell, the program returns eight players from last year’s team that will be looking to get back to the post-season for a second season in a row.

Among their group of returnees, only four of the players averaged more than 10 minutes per game last season, meaning there will be a ton of opportunity for every returnee. There will be minutes up for grabs from the get-go, and it will only be a matter of time to see who seizes the opportunity.

Of the returnees who averaged double-digit minutes per game, Quinn Taylor (Calgary, Alta.) made the most starts last season. Taylor was one of three players to play in all 21 games last season over the regular season and playoffs, and he made 20 starts along the way. He posted 7.0 points, 4.8 rebounds, and 2.0 assists per game while shooting 41.5% from the floor and 39.6% from three-point range.

Taylor will be looked upon to provide veteran leadership this season while remaining a permanent fixture in the starting five.

Taylor, Quinn
#7 Quinn Taylor (Source: Mount Royal Cougars)

Matthew Guinto (Calgary, Alta.) will step into a bigger role this season after primarily coming off the bench in 2018-19. Guinto made 17 appearances last season, but only five were starts. As a reserve, the hometown product posted 12.7 points, 2.0 rebounds, and 2.4 assists per game while shooting 36.4% from the floor.

Guinto is the team’s top returning scorer in 2019-20. Down the stretch last year, Guinto showed that he can carry the offense on a consistent basis. He recorded six straight games in double-figures to close the regular season, upping his point-per-game average to 16.5 over that stretch. For the season, Guinto had three games with at least 20 points on his resume, adding further evidence for his ability to shoulder the offense.

Patrick Vandervelden (Abbotsford, BC) returns up front to give the Cougars a boost in the paint. Last season, the 6’10” big man averaged 10.4 points and 5.7 rebounds per game over 21 regular season appearances, 17 of which were starts. Vandervelden shot 47.9% from the floor and 72.7% from the free throw line for the year.

Like Guinto, Vandervelden elevated his game down the stretch. He had double-digit points in four of the last five regular season games, and he was instrumental in helping Mount Royal secure a playoff spot. In the Cougars’ five-point win over Brandon in the regular season finale, Vandervelden recorded 17 points and 15 rebounds for one of his two double-doubles of the year.

Rounding out the group of four key returnees is 6’6” forward Nick Tancon (Comox, BC). Last season, Tancon came primarily off the bench, making five starts while appearing in 20 games overall. He posted 7.1 points and 4.4 rebounds per game while shooting 49.1% from the field. Much like Guinto, Tancon will look to become a bigger part of the puzzle this season as a regular in the starting lineup.

“They will be relied upon for leadership and consistency as our young 1st and 2nd year players develop early on,” said Dobell on his returning group. “We are young and have lots of enthusiasm right now, as eight players are in their 1st or 2nd year.”

“Everyone is excited to get to work and get better.”

For the Cougars, there will be plenty of opportunities for players to step into bigger roles with the team as the season progresses. Replacing the production lost from the likes of Hegwood and Yang will be tough, but the Cougars have a roster that will be hungry for more after getting a taste of the post-season a year ago.

Incoming Talent

In addition to their eight returnees, the Cougars bring in a recruiting class that they hope can help them stay in the playoff hunt and continue their climb up the standings. A total of five players have committed to the Cougars for the 2019-20, adding some experience and familiarity to the mix.

The biggest addition is 6’3” wing Lincoln Anderson (Cardston, Alta.). Anderson brings a wealth of experience with him to the Cougars, a resume that includes stints with both the MacEwan Griffins and the Lethbridge Pronghorns. Anderson will look to be a leading option on the offensive end for Mount Royal this season as they look to replace the production lost with Hegwood and Yang.

In terms of high school recruits, the Cougars added a pair of players from Bishop O’Bryne High in Calgary. Both Holt Tomie (Calgary, Alta.) and Nate Petrone (Calgary, Alta.) have committed to the Cougars for their collegiate careers, and their experience from playing alongside one another in high school should help them succeed at the next level.

Rounding out the five-man recruiting class is 6’6” forward Jaskaran Singh (Calgary, Alta.) and Dylan Lutes. Both will look to add depth to the mix while Singh adds more size to the lineup on both ends of the floor.

“I’m really happy with our incoming class,” added Dobell. “They are competitive, have good game IQ, and come from winning programs.”

“I expect a couple of the guys to challenge for minutes immediately and provide needed depth at the guard spot to help our veterans.”

The five men that the Cougars have added will look to play meaningful minutes right away. Again, with opportunities aplenty on the roster, anything can happen for Mount Royal this season. Adding a player like Anderson will help the team in two ways, as his production can help right away while his veteran presence can help to shape the program for the future.

After getting a taste of the post-season last year, the Cougars will be looking for more this season.

Without their top two scorers in tow, Mount Royal will look to others to step up and take on a starring role. The returnees will be the ones most look at, but the addition of Lincoln Anderson is a pickup that could pay dividends right away on the box score.

How players take to their new roles will ultimately determine how far the Cougars can go this season. After making the playoffs last year, they want to stay in the top 12 again in 2019-20. If players get accustomed early on, they have a shot to remain there and get another crack at a play-in game.

Be sure to bookmark our 2019-20 Season Previews page to keep up with the previews as they are released online.

– T. Bennett

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