After Early Exit, Medicine Hat Rattlers Have Redemption on Their Minds in 2019-20

The Medicine Hat Rattlers had National Championship aspirations in 2018-19, but an early exit at the ACAC Championship dashed their hopes. Now, in 2019-20, the Rattlers have a chip on their shoulder as they seek redemption. (Header: Medicine Hat Rattlers)

MEDICINE HAT, Alta. — 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 women’s basketball program for the Medicine Hat Rattlers.

2018-19 in Review

Last season, the Rattlers had their sights set firmly on a spot in the field for the 2019 CCAA Women’s Basketball National Championship and contending for national supremacy.

Instead, an early post-season exit has the Rattlers eyeing redemption in 2019-20.

All season long, the Rattlers were among the top teams in the country. In the Week 14 rankings put out by the CCAA, Medicine Hat was the third-ranked team in the country. Consistently near the top all season long, the Rattlers were looking to carry the momentum from a successful regular season into the playoffs.

The Rattlers finished the regular season atop the South Division with a record of 18-3. They were one game ahead of the Olds College Broncos, who would eventually go on and win the 2019 CCAA Women’s Basketball National Championship. Medicine Hat went 8-2 over their last 10 games, and they won three straight games to close the regular season with an extra boost of momentum.

Heading into the 2019 ACAC Championship, the Rattlers were the team to beat. In the quarterfinals, the Rattlers were matched up with the fourth seed from the North Division, the Augustana Vikings. In a game that the Rattlers were heavy favourites, the Vikings showed they weren’t intimidated.

Augustana took an early lead and built it up to a 16-point advantage at the break, 41-25. The Rattlers needed a second half push to keep their Nationals dream alive, and while they made a game of it down the stretch, they were unable to complete the comeback. After a successful regular season, the Rattlers had their title hopes dashed at the hands of the Vikings in the quarterfinals, 74-67.

Despite the loss, the Rattlers continued to play strong basketball to close out the season. After a convincing win over the Lethbridge College Kodiaks in the Consolation semi-final, 76-36, Medicine Hat was looking to close out their season with a win in the 5th/6th Place game.

Against the St. Mary’s University Lightning, the defending ACAC Champions, the Rattlers found themselves in another tight battle. Only this time, the Rattlers came out on top, ending their season with an 84-77 win over the Lightning to secure fifth place.

“The main takeaway is you need to be ready for the first game,” said Head Coach Clayton Nielsen when asked about the way last season ended. “It was a great learning experience for the players returning to this year’s squad.”

“I believe we had a top two team and would have done very well at Nationals.”

After having National Championship aspirations all season long, having them dashed in the first game of the post-season has motivated the team even more this season. Equipped with a younger roster than they’ve had in recent years, the Rattlers will lean on their returning veterans in 2019-20 to carry the team on their quest for redemption.

Who’s Gone?

While the roster has yet to be finalized for the Rattlers heading into the new season, we know for sure that at least one player has moved onto the next chapter of her basketball career as the lone fifth-year player on last year’s roster. What we don’t quite know yet is who else will be gone from last year’s team.

We can speculate on a couple of names, given information that we’ve been given ahead of the new season.

The one player who is gone is fifth-year graduate Kendell Kuntz (Medicine hat, Alta.). Last season, Kuntz was the team’s leading scorer last season, averaging an even 16.0 points per game while shooting 37.3% from the field and 34.7% from three-point range. She added 1.8 rebounds, 1.9 assists, and 1.5 steals per game.

Kuntz was one of the go-to veterans for the Rattlers last season. As the lone fifth-year player for Nielsen, Kuntz brought a great deal to the team that stretched far beyond her production that you’d find on the box score.

After Kuntz, that’s where the speculation begins. The Rattlers will be a young team this season, according to Nielsen, and that adds more speculation to the mix.

“We are very young this year,” added Nielsen. “We have 5 first year players and 3 second year players who will have an expanded role on this year’s team.”

The likes of Kristen Skjonsby (Estevan, Sask.), Kiana Mintz (Medicine Hat, Alta.), and Jordyn Kearley (Medicine Hat, Alta.) also won’t be with the program again this season.

Up front, Skjonsby started in 19 regular season games last season. She posted 3.0 points and 3.9 rebounds per game while shooting 26.1% from the field. In terms of Kearley, she posted 7.2 points and 2.2 rebounds per game while appearing in all 21 regular season games.

Mintz was the team’s top reserve last season. She saw the floor in all 21 games but made just seven starts. She ranked second on the team in scoring, averaging 13.0 points per contest go along with 4.5 rebounds, 1.4 assists, and 2.0 steals. She shot 37.3% from the field and 31.5% from three-point range.

Losing four key pieces from their rotation will sting for Medicine Hat. Their production can be replaced, but their experience is another challenge. However, the Rattlers still have several integral pieces back who are ready to lead the way in 2019-20.

Who’s Back?

Again, the roster has yet to be fully announced, but we know for sure that at least three veterans are back in the mix, plus the Rattlers have a trio of second-year players back this season. Given they had just 3 first-year players last season, it’s safe to assume that all of them are back for another run at the title.

Katelyn Rozdeba (Medicine Hat, Alta.) is the top returning scorer that has been confirmed back this season. She also led the team in rebounding last season with an average of 8.1 rebounds per contest. On offense, she posted 9.5 points per game on 37.6% shooting from the field and 62.2% shooting from the free throw line.

Rozdeba posted nine games with double-digit points, but none over the last four games. She was one of the more consistent players on the glass, recording at least six rebounds in 17 of the Rattlers’ 21 regular season games. This season, she will assume a larger role on the offensive end of the floor as the Rattlers look to make up for the loss in production with the graduation of Kuntz.

In the back court, the Rattlers return one of the country’s top defensive guards in Morgan Muir (Ballarat, Australia). Last season, Muir led the ACAC with an average of 4.5 steals per game, and her 94 total steals were 23 more than second place. She recorded at least four steals in a game 14 times.

Muir was an impact player on both ends of the floor. She averaged 9.0 points, 3.0 rebounds, and 3.0 assists per game on top of her steals. While she made her mark on defense, Muir brings much more to the table on a nightly basis.

Muir, Morgan
Morgan Muir is likely the best defensive guard in Canada that you’ve never heard of. That will change in 2019-20. (Source: Medicine Hat Rattlers)

The third confirmed returnee is Paige Cooper (Medicine Hat, Alta.). Last season, Cooper made just two starts while appearing in all 21 regular season contests. She averaged 3.3 points and 2.0 rebounds per game in her limited action, but her role is expected to drastically expand this season.

From there, we can speculate on the remaining returnees. Last season, the group of Rhiannon Ware (Medicine Hat, Alta.), Tatiana Dutka (Estevan, Sask.), and Amer Karamanos (Eagle Butte, Alta.). were all first-year players. With Nielsen expecting 3 second-year players back this season, it’s a safe assumption to say all three will be back in 2019-20.

Ware posted 4.5 points, 2.6 rebounds, and 1.4 assists per game last season while appearing in 20 regular season games. She made one start over the course of the year.

With at least Rozdeba, Cooper, and Muir back in the mix, the Rattlers have a solid group of veterans to build their rotation around in 2019-20. From there, the construction of the roster remains unclear. It’s safe to assume that last year’s first-year trio will be back in the mix, giving the team another boost in terms of experience.

When it comes to incoming talent, Nielsen is excited about the group he’s added this season.

Incoming Talent

“I love our first-year players,” added Nielsen. “We have a mix of height, speed, high basketball IQ and drive to be great on and off the court.”

The Rattlers have added five new faces to the mix this season, and while not all of the names have been released yet, there’s a buzz around this year’s recruiting class that bodes well for the future of the program.

If any of the speculated players from above don’t return this season, there will be plenty of opportunities for the incoming recruiting class to seize and run with. With Nielsen singing their praises early on, there’s good reason for the positive outlook.

However, the players will need time to adjust to the rigors of the ACAC, and Nielsen is fully aware of that.

“The key will be how quickly they handle the increase in speed and strength that comes with playing in the ACAC night in and night out,” said Nielsen. “I feel we will be battling all year and hopefully that will prepare us for playoffs.”

After last season’s tough finish, the Rattlers will have some extra motivation at their backs this season.

They were one of the top teams in the country all throughout the regular season, but as we all know, the post-season is an entirely different animal. The Rattlers ran into a determined Augustana team, and they got beat by the better team that night. After finishing the year with a pair of wins, Medicine Hat will be looking for some redemption in 2019-20.

With one of Canada’s top guards leading the way on defense, and a pair of returning veterans who will look to expand their offensive games this season, the Rattlers will embark on a redemption tour that may not bode well for the rest of the ACAC.

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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