By Emilie Medland-Marchen, June 14 2016 —
The spring and summer semesters are a time of rest for most students, but for many Dinos athletes, the hard work has just begun. After a well-deserved break from training this past spring, many teams are already gearing up for the 2016–17 season. Last year, the Dinos’ success established the athletics department as a western powerhouse threatening to take home multiple Canada West conference titles. The Gauntlet reviewed the top three teams to watch heading into September.
1. Dinos men’s volleyball
The definitive underdogs of the Dinos athletics department were defeated in the Canada West quarter-finals by the Trinity Western University Spartans, bringing their 2015–16 season to an abrupt end. After winning the first match of the series 3–1, the Dinos seemed poised to move to the next round and contend for their first Canada West title since 2010. But after two more games of hand-to-hand combat, Trinity Western ultimately came out on top, defeating the Dinos 3–0 and 3–1 in games two and three of the series, dashing their hopes of continuing in the playoffs.
It was probably the most crushing conclusion to the season for any Dinos team last year. At the end of game three, Trinity Western erupted in jubilant fist-bumps and high-fives. Meanwhile the Dinos held their positions on the court for a long time — some even collapsing to the ground, unable to comprehend what had just happened.
Every team and athlete must face moments like this over the course of their sporting career. After a hard loss, the struggle is to get back up again, dust off and return next season with even more force than before.
The Dinos have a lot to be proud of from their efforts last season. Head coach Rod Durrant was named CIS Coach of the Year for his role in leading the team to their most successful season ever with a record 18 wins. The Dinos ranked among the top five CIS teams in the country, and without any all-star conference mentions, their success was undoubtedly a team effort that took everyone by surprise.
In 2016, the Dinos will lose many of their key veterans to graduation. But they maintain talented hitters like Keith West and Curtis Stockton, who will both be entering their final few years with the team. Most importantly, they’ll retain the top men’s volleyball coach in the country. And there’s no way that Durrant will let this past season mark the end of his team’s success.
2. Dinos women’s hockey
The Dinos women’s hockey team may have a short history, but it has been stacked with talent. The team has roots highlighted by five-time Olympic gold medalist Hayley Wickenheiser and CIS MVP star goalie Amanda Tapp — not to mention International Ice Hockey Federation hall of fame head coach Danielle Goyette.
With a coach like Goyette, the team has the potential to produce more champions in upcoming years. Forward Alexandra Vafina will headline the team in 2016 as a fourth-year veteran. Last year she earned 35 points in 28 games for the Dinos with 14 goals and 21 assists. She was named a CIS women’s hockey All-Canadian as the second highest scorer in the nation — alongside fellow Russian teammate Iya Gavrilova, who set a new career scoring record that put her ahead of Hayley Wickenheiser by a single point.
Sophomore forwards Rylee Smith and Delaney Frey have potential for a great season as well. Last year, the rookies made big plays during the annual Crowchild Classic at the Saddledome in January, securing a Dinos win over Mount Royal with a final score of 3–2. Frey is quick on her feet and has formidable stickhandling skills to match, while Smith can pick openings in the net. Although Smith’s points average shows that she has a few kinks to work out in her game, her good decision making in a high-pressure arena like the Saddledome shows that she has the potential to become an adept playmaker.
A solid forward lineup coupled with goalie Hayley Dowling’s average .922 save percentage last season rounds out a team that has a good chance to play their way to the Canada West championships this year. They’ll most likely be battling against rivals University of Regina for a spot in the CIS Final Four — but with Goyette as their guide, anything is possible.
3. Dinos football
The Dinos football team has gained traction in recent years, establishing itself as one of the top CIS programs in the country. This May, one former and three active Dinos players were drafted to the CFL, showing that talent is abound amongst the team.
The team had an undeniably outstanding season in 2015. They went undefeated throughout the early season and easily bested the University of Saskatchewan in their first playoff. But in November, the season ended with a heartbreaking loss to the University of British Columbia Thunderbirds, led by former Dinos head coach Blake Nill.
McMahon Stadium played host to 1,738 fans for the battle of the Hardy Cup, which was ultimately taken by UBC in a final score of 34–26. History had repeated itself for the Dinos — it was the second year in a row they had lost out on a Canada West championship title.
With a perfect season behind them, nobody expected the Dinos to falter in one of the most important games of the year. Maybe it was the pressure from the number of fans, or the fact that the team’s former head coach was on the other side of the pitch. Or maybe it was just bad luck.
Heading into this year, many of the team’s players — like receiver Hunter Karl and quarterback Alex Basilis — will be done their rookie seasons. Even though some of the top players will have graduated, the influence of former stars like Andrew Buckley and Elie Bouka will have a noticeable influence in shaping the team in 2016. In sports, talent breeds more talent — if all goes well, the Dinos have a good shot of making it to the Canada West finals for a third year in a row. And this time, if they play their cards right, they could win their way to the Vanier.
The team begins their season on August 25 against the University of Regina Rams in Medicine Hat. They return to Calgary on September 9 for Kickoff, where they’ll square off against the rival UBC Thunderbirds. There’s plenty of bad blood between these two teams, so it’s bound to be a feisty game. Expect some big hits and plenty of energy from the crowd, as Kickoff is one of the most highly attended varsity sporting events of the year.