High hopes for future has Mount Royal Cougars looking up

Despite jumping a league to face higher competition, recruiting has apparently been more difficult than in previous years for the Mount Royal University Cougars.

According to men’s basketball coach Marc Dobell, recruiting new players to join the Cougars is not as easy now as when they were a top team in the Alberta Colleges Athletic Conference.

 “It’s been tough,” Dobell said. “When we were in the ACAC, we were one of the top programs there, so we were attractive to a lot of players that weren’t playing CIS.”

The fact that MRU did not yet have a record in the league and had not played any Canadian Interuniversity Sport games at the time of recruiting, have made players wary to jump into the programs, Dobell suggested.

“Just the fact that we’re an unknown,” Dobell said on the effect on recruitment. “We could be winless, we could be .500, or we could be competing for a playoff spot.”

School’s selling pointsFirst year Mount Royal Cougar Josh Kirkham sets the ball for Grigor Kartev during volleyball practice.

Photo by Neil Hilts

Karla Karch, the athletic director for the Cougars, suggested the school hasmany great selling points for prospective student athletes that can help with recruitment, especially if teams begins to win.

“I think we’re really trying to draw on being a small school and small classroom sizes. Calgary will naturally attract student athletes because of the big city and convenience, what we have and what we can offer academically, and what (coaches) can offer for the success of a student athlete.”

Mount Royal has a vast number of recruits from Calgary – 71 according to the Cougars website. Dobell said he would like to stay with local players, but added that to get the top-tier talent they must search Canada-wide.

“My vision and goal is to be as local as possible,” he said. “If we can find the talent in Calgary and Alberta that will help us build a competitive program and that is my first priority. We’re going to have to go out of province and out of country for higher talent, though.

If a top-ranked player were to choose Mount Royal, that would be a huge recruiting boost for the Cougars.

“What really has changed is that we always recruited students that did well academically. Athletically, we need to recruit those top-tier student athletes. The best player in the province wouldn’t have considered Mount Royal.” Karch said. “Now we have to have recruiting that they will consider, then make the decision to come to Mount Royal.”

The Cougars officially joined the ranks of the CIS this fall, making the expectations for the sports teams relatively low for the beginning.

Scholarships and funding

First year Mount Royal Cougar Josh Kirkham serves the ball during volleyball practice.

Photo by Neil HiltsAll schools are governed by the CIS as to how much a scholarship can value, so no team can outbid for the services of another.

“We can pay for a student athlete’s tuition – and we track it to a penny. In the CIS and Canada West we have to report everything,” Karch said.

Karch and Dobell admitted that they expect the first few years in the CIS to be a struggle, but hope to be competitive and successful by year four or five.

Karch added: “I never said it’s about the wins or losses for our program. We would be foolish to think we could step into Canada West and think we could dominate. In three to five years, those are our goals. We are going to dominate and be strong. We are striving to be as strong in Canada West as we were in the ACAC.”

Dobell said he typically does not let recruits have starting positions.

“I don’t offer minutes or guarantees or starting spots,” he said. That’s something they have to earn.”

First year player weighs in

The Cougars’ reputation and volleyball program were enough to lure Josh Kirkham, 18, from his hometown of Waterloo, Ont., to Calgary and MRU.

“I heard (head coach) Shawn Sky can do some pretty amazing things. It seemed like a really good fit when I came out here,” Kirkham said.

The jump to the CIS was something that intrigued Kirkham, and he knew he wanted to be a part of the experience.

“Obviously there is going to be growing pains because we might be considered inexperienced by other teams because we haven’t played at the same caliber. I really feel with the talent of our players that we’ll do pretty well for ourselves,” Kirkham said.

nhilts@cjournal.ca