NPH CIS Team Previews: Manitoba Bisons
Can the Manitoba Bisons continue on their upward trajectory and make the Canada West Final Four?
Head coach: Kirby Schepp
Record in 2014: 9-11 (Seventh in Pioneer division of Canada West Conference)
Playoffs: Canada West Play-In series
Points scored per game: 78.9
Points allowed per game: 80.7
Key players: AJ Basi, Justus Alleyn, Keith Omoerah, Jonathan Alexander
Key losses: Stephan Walton, Alfreeman Flowers
The 2014-15 season of the Manitoba Bisons was one of two halves: after beating the Lethbridge Pronghorns on Nov. 29, the team had an 8-2 record and stood just outside of the CIS Top 10 on Dec. 2. That high high led to a low low, with the Bisons winning only once in their 10 games after Christmas. Opponents, head coach Kirby Schepp tells NPH, may have found “weaknesses that they were able to exploit. […] Some of those weaknesses are no longer with us.” Also no longer with Manitoba is the gruelling second-half schedule against playoff teams, as was the case last season. But Schepp takes nothing for granted. “The parity is really, really extreme in Canada West,” he says. “There is no creampuff you can cling to.” Parity means many close and tough games: good for the fans, if not the coaches.
Key games: VS Calgary Dinos, Nov. 13 and 14
VS Winnipeg, Feb. 5; at Winnipeg, Feb. 6
The Manitoba Bisons made the Canada West playoffs last season, losing 2-0 the play-in series against the Calgary Dinos. But the team will not be happy with only that. “The veterans on our team want to be a Canada West Final Four team,” head coach Kirby Schepp says. “(It) is probably the next step for this team and it’s certainly the goal.”
Indeed, Manitoba has followed up a 6-16 season in 2013-14 with last season’s playoff berth; the Bisons’ arrow is pointing upward, and that’s before mentioning that their appeal to the CIS over the “team’s best defender” Wyatt Anders’s fifth year of eligibility (i.e. he had played in the NCAC) was successful. It’s probably why Schepp is optimistic on his team’s chances to improve on their weaknesses. “We have a chance to be much better defensively. It’s probably the most athletic team I’ve had in a number of years,” he tells NPH. “We did everything we could to add a little bit more size, strength and athleticism.”
With Keith Omoerah, Joey Nitychoruk, Justus Alleyn and Jonathan Alexander, the Bisons will continue playing up tempo as they have in years past, simply because they can and they should. “We have a little bit more depth at forward than we’ve had,” Schepp says, “and hopefully that’s going to translate into more stops.”
More wins too.