Fifth Straight Nationals Berth in Sight for the Regina Cougars

Goncalves, Carolina
With two of Regina’s top returning guards transferring ahead of the 2019-20 season, Carolina Goncalves is the Cougars’ top returning scorer this season. (Source: 980 CJME) (Header: @cronemac on Twitter)

REGINA, Sask. — If you’re reading this, it’s not too late.

The 2019-20 basketball season is right around the corner, and we’re here to help you get set for what will surely be an incredible journey.

While we’re still looking back on an incredible 2018-19 season, one that saw two teams win their first-ever National Championships in school history, it’s also the perfect time to look ahead. The 2019-20 season promises to deliver a heightened level of excitement, and we can’t wait to see what’s in store for the new campaign.

To get fans across the country ready for the new season, we’ve taken on a challenge that hasn’t been done before. In the coming weeks, we will preview every team from coast to coast ahead of the 2019-20 season.

That’s 111 different programs, if you’re keeping a tally.

From August 8th through to October 6th, every team will be previewed in some capacity. For institutions that have both men’s and women’s basketball, a separate preview piece will be done for each team.

Rosters will be dissected and a look back at the year that was will help us determine what the team looks like this time around as every team begins with a blank slate in the standings.

Without further adieu, here is today’s preview on the Regina Cougars women’s basketball program.

2018-19 in Review

In recent years, the Regina Cougars have been a mainstay in the U Sports Women’s Basketball Final Eight field. Having advanced to Nationals in each of the previous three seasons ahead of the 2018-19 season, the Cougars had their sights set on a fourth consecutive appearance.

In the regular season, the Cougars were among the top teams in the country from the outset. Equipped with a talented roster from top to bottom, the Cougars showed why they were a regular participant at Nationals.

Regina rolled to a 17-3 record in the regular season, earning themselves a bye into the Canada West quarter-finals as a result. In their quarter-finals series, the Cougars easily disposed of the Victoria Vikes in a two-game sweep. Regina won both contests by at least 20 points, advancing themselves one step closer to yet another spot at Nationals.

In the semifinals, the Cougars found themselves matched up against the Calgary Dinos. On the road, Regina still found a way to punch their ticket to the Canada West Championship with another series sweep. The Cougars picked up two double-digit wins on the Dinos’ home floor to advance to the title game.

It was an all-Saskatchewan title game, as the Cougars met up with the Saskatchewan Huskies. Despite their 53-49 loss to their provincial rivals, Regina still secured their fourth-consecutive appearance at Nationals by way of advancing the league finals.

At Nationals, the Cougars battled through some injuries, and while the results didn’t go in their favour, the team left it all on the court and fought to the buzzer both nights out. In their opener against the Ottawa Gee-Gees, the Cougars clawed their way back from a 13-point deficit to make it a single-possession game. In the end, Ottawa held off Regina’s comeback and picked up the 65-63 win.

In the Consolation semifinals, the short-handed Cougars fell to the host Ryerson Rams, 63-45, bringing an end to their season as a result.

“With the injuries and adversity we fought through last year it was gratifying getting to Nationals,” said Head Coach Dave Taylor. “I wish we had have been fully healthy but always appreciate being there.”

For the fourth year in a row, the Cougars earned their spot at Nationals. Heading into the 2019-20 season, Regina has its sights set on yet another trip to the Final Eight. In order to do that, they will need to do so without three familiar faces from last year’s team.

Who’s Gone?

At the end of the 2018-19 season, the Cougars expected to have all but one player back for the 2019-20 season. Instead, a pair of veterans transferred out of the program to other U Sports institutions, another two guards won’t be back in th emix, and suddenly the Cougars will look considerably different in 2019-20.

The biggest news of the off-season came from one the Cougars’ counterparts in the Canada West. The Winnipeg Wesmen announced that Kyanna Giles (Winnipeg, Man.) was transferring back to her hometown to play for the Wesmen. Adding Giles to the mix is a significant addition to the Wesmen and their rotation, and it’s a significant blow to the Cougars.

Giles, Kyanna
It was announced on August 20th, 2019 that Kyanna Giles would be transferring to the Winnipeg Wesmen after three years with the Regina Cougars. (Source: Arthur Images via 620 CKRM)

Giles was the Cougars’ top scorer and rebounder in 2018-19. She averaged 17.4 points and 8.6 rebounds per contest, while also chipping in 3.0 assists and 2.4 steals. Giles will sit out the 2019-20 season, per the U Sports transfer requirements, but she will have two years of eligibility remaining starting with the 2020-21 campaign.

Regina will also be without Kyia Giles (Winnipeg, Man.) from last year after she opted to transfer following the 2018-19 season. After three seasons with the Cougars, Giles will play for Carly Clarke at Ryerson in 2019-20. Last year, Giles posted 5.8 points, 3.2 rebounds, and 1.9 assists per game.

Guard Carolina Goncalves (Oeiras, Portugal) would have been the team’s top returning scorer from last season, but won’t be back in 2019-20. Goncalves posted an average of 10.2 points per game over the regular season and Canada West playoffs, all while making just 10 starts over 22 appearances. She added 3.7 rebounds, 2.4 assists, and 1.8 steals per game while shooting 38.8% from the field.

Despite starting in less than half of her appearances, Goncalves recorded at least 10 points in 11 games throughout the year.

Angela Bongomin (Regina, Sask.) also won’t return in 2019-20. In a reserve role last season, Bongomin averaged 6.9 points and 5.8 rebounds per contest, all while shooting just shy of 60% from the field (59.3).

At the time, the only player that the Cougars thought they would be without was fifth-year forward Christina McCusker (Regina, Sask.). The hometown forward was the lone graduating player from the 2018-19 roster, and her departure leaves a big void in the front court rotation. McCusker was one of the top shot blockers in the country last season, an average of 2.5 blocked shots per contest. She had at least one block in 22 of her 24 appearances, while recording at least three blocked shots on 12 occasions.

McCusker also averaged 7.8 points and 6.5 rebounds per game in 2018-19.

What they thought was just one departure turned out to be three players gone from last year’s team. The Cougars now have been tasked with replacing the production of two of their top starters, along with a key role player off the bench. Fortunately for Coach Taylor and his staff, the Cougars return several starters and role players who can step into new roles and give the team key minutes.

Who’s Back?

After thinking they would lose just one player from last year’s roster, two more left by way of transfer. Still, the Cougars return their share of intriguing talent who will look to guide the team to a fifth-straight appearance at the Final Eight.

Forward Macaela Crone (Moose Jaw, Sask.) had herself a strong 2018-19 season, and she will be looking to build off that this year. Crone transferred to the Cougars after a stint with the Louisiana Tech Bulldogs in the Conference USA, and she’s been a welcome addition to the Regina rotation. Crone is the top returning rebounder for the Cougars from last season, as she averaged 7.9 rebounds to go along with 10.0 points per game.

Over the 2018-19 season, Crone posted seven double-doubles.

Rounding out the Cougars’ trio of key returnees is guard Michaela Kleisinger (Regina, Sask.). Last year, the hometown guard averaged a team-best 3.6 assists per contest. She recorded at least four assists in a game 11 times, showcasing her ability to get her teammates involved on a consistent basis.

In terms of offensive production, Kleisinger averaged 7.8 points per game on 30.3% shooting from the field. Over a three-game stretch from January 26th through to February 2nd, Kleisinger recorded three consecutive games with double-digit points.

Off the bench, look for Faith Reid (Warman, Sask.) to take on expanded role this season. Reid averaged 8.5 points per game last season while shooting 40.0% from the field and 90.0% from the free throw line.

The Cougars lose their share of talent, but they have a talented yet unproven group of returnees back in the mix who are ready to lead the team on their quest for another appearance at Nationals. They will look to their role players and incoming recruits to fill the voids left by the departing players, especially in the back court.

Incoming Talent

The Cougars have announced two commitments to their recruiting class thus far, adding some depth to their roster for this season and into the future with the program. The Cougars have added Zoe Hartmann and Emily Dewey to the mix, along with some depth pieces who will be released at a later date.

The Cougars will be looking to make another post-season run in the Canada West and secure their fifth-straight appearance at Nationals. In order to do that, they will need to replace the production lost with two transfers and a graduating fifth-year forward.

Still, the Cougars return their share of talent and will be looking to benefit from other top teams in the conference also losing some of their top stars. With their recent history of success, the Cougars know what it takes to make it to the Final Eight, and that gives them a leg up over their competition.

While it will be tough for the Cougars to match their 17-win total from a season ago, Regina still enters the year as one of the top teams in the conference. Only time will tell if a fifth consecutive appearance is in the cards for the Cougars.

Be sure to bookmark our 2019-20 Season Previews page to keep up with the previews as they are released online.

– T. Bennett

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