SUDBURY, Ontario — It’s not how you start, but how you finish.
For the Laurentian Voyageurs, that statement was all too true during the 2017-18 season.
Over the first three months of the season, the Voyageurs were one of the top teams in the OUA, and they looked to be a legitimate threat to make a post-season run and threaten for a spot in the U Sports Final 8 Tournament. At the end of January, Laurentian sat at 16-2 in OUA play, and were in the driver’s seat heading into the final month of the season.
Once the calendar switched to February, it seemed as though the Voyageurs lost their groove. They lost all five games in the month of February, and because of their sudden losing streak, they had to fight an uphill battle in the post-season. What started as a promising season all went to the wayside in a matter of five games.
After finishing up at 16-7 overall, the Voyageurs will enter the 2018-19 season with a bit of a chip on their shoulder. They will be looking to put together another impressive start to the season and carry that into the month of February and into the post-season. They’ve got something to prove to the rest of the OUA, and will be looking to make up for lost time from last season.
Last season, Laurentian opened up their non-conference schedule with an impressive win over the Montana Grizzlies in Costa Rica back in August. Then, in October, the Voyageurs took part in the University of Manitoba Invitational. Laurentian swept the three games they played in the event, and had built a ton of positive momentum heading into the regular season.
The Voyageurs opened up OUA play with four straight wins, and they took an 8-1 record into the Christmas break. After the break, they continued their winning ways by accumulating a record of 16-2 by the end of January.
From there, the wheels seemingly fell off for the Voyageurs, derailing what was a promising season to say the least.
Five straight losses during the month of February pushed the Voyageurs down to fourth place in the OUA East Division. They took on the Toronto Varsity Blues in the opening round of the playoffs, picking up an 85-80 victory to advance to the quarter-finals. There, they were matched up against the Carleton Ravens.
The Ravens put an end to the Voyageurs’ season with an 83-69 victory.
Down the stretch, Laurentian was without the services of second-year guard Kadre Gray for the team’s final two games. Gray would eventually go on to win both OUA Male Athlete of the Year and U Sports Male Student-Athlete of the Year after his impressive season on the court.
Gray led the nations in assists, averaging 7.0 assists per contest. He narrowly missed out on leading the nation in scoring for the second year in a row, averaging 24.4 points per contest. Add in his 8.0 rebounds per game, and it’s easy to see why Gray racked up individual awards last year despite missing three games due to injury.
To go along with his impressive averages, Gray shot the ball well from all areas of the floor. He shot 51.2% from the floor, 43.1% from three-point range, and 80.5% from the free throw line. Given that he was only a second year athlete in 2017-18, the fact that the Voyageurs have another three years left of his services is great for the program.
Joining Gray back in the mix for Laurentian in 2018-19 is fourth-year guard Anthony Iacoe. The 6’0” guard from Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario averaged 8.9 points per contest while appearing in all 23 games for the Voyageurs. Iacoe finished fourth on the team in scoring a season ago, making him the second-highest returning scorer in 2018-19.
With Gray and Iacoe back for the Voyageurs, the back court rotation will be solid heading into the new season. The question marks for Laurentian can be found up front.
Third year forward Josis Mikia-Thomas is the top returner in the front court after last season, as the pair of Joseph Sykes and OJ Watson both graduated at year’s end. Mikia-Thomas posted 6.3 points and 4.0 rebounds per game in under 16 minutes per game off the bench. At 6’4”, the native of Toronto, ON gives the lineup flexibility with his shooting and ability to finish in the paint.
While the Voyageurs have yet to announce their 2018-19 roster, it looks as though that they will have just one fifth-year player on their roster (JD West). Laurentian will turn to their youth for a boost on both ends of the floor, while the pair of Gray and Iacoe will look to carry things from the back-end.
It’s no secret that Kadre Gray is one of the best players in the country, if not the best. He will look to carry the team in 2018-19 as the Voyageurs look to erase the memory of their losing streak to end the season and make up for lost time. If they play like the team they were over the first three months of last season, a deep playoff run could be in play for Laurentian come the end of February.
– T. Bennett