VERMILION, Alberta — After getting a taste of the CCAA National Championships last season, the Lakeland College Rustlers will be looking for more in 2018-19.
The Rustlers ended the 2017-18 regular season with back-to-back losses in ACAC play, and they entered the post-season as the third seed from the North Division. They faced an uphill climb on their quest for the ACAC Championship, but the Rustlers proved they were up for the challenge.
Upset wins over both the Medicine Hat Rattlers and the CUE Thunder propelled the Rustlers into the finals against the defending champion SAIT Trojans. Lakeland College gave the Trojans a run for their money, but ended up with a silver medal after an 88-77 defeat.
Still, the Rustlers earned one of the eight spots at the CCAA National Championships. Lakeland College went 0-3 during the event, finishing in eighth place. If it’s any consolation, their closest game came against the Seneca Sting, who would eventually secure the national championship. The Rustlers made the Sting fight for their 77-69 victory in their first contest of the event.
In 2018-19, the Rustlers will be looking to build off last year’s national championship tournament appearance. The ACAC will be chalked full of talent once again, but the Rustlers showed last season that they can compete with the best teams in the league down the stretch.
After making a run through the ACAC playoffs and into the title game, the Rustlers secured a spot in the eight-team field for the 2018 CCAA Men’s Basketball Championships. The Rustlers had their backs against the wall as a low seed, but they had overcome that once already en route to the national championships in league play.
The Rustlers gave it their all out in Laval, QC, but they weren’t able to pick up a win, going 0-3 over the three-day tournament. Losses to the Humber Hawks, College Jean-de-Brebeuf, and Seneca Sting sent the Rustlers home with an eighth place finish in the event.
Still, advancing to the national championships is a feat in its own right, and one that shouldn’t be overlooked. Lakeland College earned their spot in the field by way of finishing second in the ACAC Championships, and while the results weren’t there on the national level, the Rustlers have a lot to be proud of.
Fast forward to the 2018-19 season, and the Rustlers are looking to build off their appearance at nationals and make some more noise. They will have home-court advantage at the 2019 ACAC Championships, as Lakeland College will serve as the host institution for the men’s basketball tournament.
With the departures of both Prentice Gardner and Terrell Murdaugh, the Rustlers will be without two of their top three scorers from a season ago. Gardner averaged a team-best 16.9 points per contest, while Murdaugh was third with an average of 12.5 points. Lakeland College had just three players average double-digit points per game last season, and after losing two of them, there will be plenty of opportunities for others to step up this season.
Forward Artavis Holiday is back in the mix and will be a focal point of the offense for the Rustlers. The fourth-year forward from Marvell, AR averaged 15.3 points per game on 51.5% shooting from the floor, while leading the team with 9.3 rebounds per contest. Holiday is the top returning scorer for the Rustlers in 2018-19, and the 6’4” forward will look to take another step forwards this year.
Over the course of the season, Holiday showed that he can be the go-to option on the offensive end of the floor. He topped 20-points on five occasions, including a 34-point performance against the Keyano College Huskies on November 18th. Holiday went 15-of-25 from the floor in the win, and he added 24 rebounds to help guide the Rustlers to the 94-91 win.
In the back court, third-year guard Adrian Richards is back to add some stability to the guard rotation. The native of Toronto, ON will see an expanded role this season with the departures of Gardner and Murdaugh. Last season, Richards averaged 9.0 points to go along with a team-high 3.6 assists and 4.5 rebounds per game.
During the regular season, Richards dished out four or more assists in 10 of his 23 appearances. He recorded 10 assists to just two turnovers on February 3rd against the NAIT Ooks, resulting in a 79-66 win for the Rustlers. Richards had an assist-to-turnover ratio of 1.7:1 over the course of the year.
With Richards and Holiday, the Rustlers have a talented inside-out tandem, but they will need others to step up and take on expanded roles if they want to build off last year’s trip to the national championships. That means the likes of veterans Brandon Isaac and Akeem Phillip will need to step up their game early on in the season as the newcomers get accustomed to life in the ACAC and get their feet wet in the collegiate game.
After last season’s run through the ACAC playoffs and into the CCAA National Championships, Lakeland College will be looking to recreate their magic in 2018-19. After advancing as far as they did a year ago, they won’t be able to sneak up on teams this season in the ACAC, as teams will have them circled on their calendars.
Don’t be surprised if the Rustlers take a step back this season, given the losses in terms of personnel from last year’s team. With that said, the Rustlers know what it takes to make a run through the post-season, and history has a weird way of repeating itself from time to time.
After all, the road to the CCAA National Championships goes through Vermilion, Alberta.
– T. Bennett