Volume 94, Issue 97
Friday, March 23, 2001
So close yet so far
The Mustang Men's basketball team huddles together during a time out at the recent CIAU championships in Halifax, Nova Scotia.
By Jordan Bell and Joel Brown
The Western Mustangs men's basketball team set the record for most wins in Western history this year, and came away victorious in the Ontario Athletics West final and the Wilson Cup.
But the season will ultimately be remembered for the Halifax curse and the championship the team did not win.
The Mustangs traveled to the national championships primed to bring home their second trophy of the year. They had been ranked as the number two team in the nation much of the year, and were looking to erase the heartache of Brandon forward Josh Masters half-court buzzer-beater at last year's championships.
But fate seems to play devilish tricks on the Mustangs, and once again the Mustangs watched hopelessly as Brandon guard Tyrone Smith drove the lane and sent the Mustangs home empty-handed.
"We didn't win the nationals, that's the bottom line," said head coach Craig Boydell. "We're disappointed, but I guess that's life in the fast lane when your goal is to win."
Although the Mustangs could easily call it a year to forget, in hindsight many realize the season was one of dominance and strong play, and something to be proud of.
"The conclusion to this season was extremely disappointing, but the season is by no means a failure," said centre Chris Brown. "We won the Ontario University Athletics West final, and the Wilson Cup which were extremely satisfying."
The Mustangs were triumphant in a school-record 36 wins this season, an accomplishment that surpassed many records at this school full of storied teams. The Mustangs, according to Boydell, can also boast something no one else in the country can. "There was only one team in the country that beat St. Francis Xavier [this year's champion] and that was us," Boydell said. "You have to be pleased with that."
In this roller coaster ride of a season, the Mustangs began by winning the prestigious Naismith Cup, and piled on a stellar winning streak that left the rest of the nation drooling over the Mustang stampede.
But when the Mustangs began their conference season with a loss to the McMaster Marauders, and an incomprehensible upset at the hands of the Waterloo Warriors, a shadow of doubt was cast over the true dominance of the Mustangs. As is a staple of the Mustangs approach though, they reversed their fortunes and torched the OUA competition, building another winning streak through to the West final and the Wilson Cup.
The team was close-knit, and Brown said he doesn't sight a specific moment as defining his season. It was other aspects that will ever live in his heart.
"I will remember travelling with the guys, out East especially," Brown said. "The camaraderie among the guys couldn't be beat."
Next year, the team will be without two players that were symbolic of the team's chemistry. Rich Tamminga, a centre who, despite being married with a child on the way, earned the admiration of Boydell for his dedication, and Matt Tweedie, a walk-on who worked his was to being the team's captain and inspirational leader.
"You look at the number of games they played over the last five years and the fact they won 84 per cent of them. Nobody else can say that," Boydell said.
While many teams around the country will be looking to add talent to replace this year's skilled senior class, including the likes of McMaster guard and CIAU player of the year Steve Maga, the expectation is Western will be able to improve from within. Guard Jimmy Grozelle and forward Andy Kwiatkowski have completed only their third year of eligibility, while many other players are poised to take their game to another level.
Add the return of 6'9" centre Kelsey Green, a player who Boydell believes can become a force in the middle, now recovered from back surgery and the Mustangs should be able to maintain their winning ways, if not improve to the final goal.
But whatever fortunes the future holds and whatever fond memories of the past come to mind, one thing will overshadow all of those good things for the 2000-2001 edition of the Western Mustangs men's basketball team. As a heartbroken Salomons confirmed, the team wanted a chance to compete in a national championship, and that's it.
"One shot could have been the difference, and that would of been us playing."
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