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Blazers wrap up their 2022/23 seasons

An overview of the year that was

Blazers MVB Head Coach Don Dulder was named MCAC Coach of the Year for 2022/23 Blazers MVB Head Coach Don Dulder was named MCAC Coach of the Year for 2022/23

With MCAC and NIAC Championships all completed, the dust has finally settled on the 2022/23 varsity seasons, which gives us reason to take a look at some highlights of the past six months.

Blazers soccer started the season in September as always, and both teams came out of the gate a bit slowly waiting until their first matchups with the Assiniboine Community College Cougars in week two to pick up points on the season.

On the men's side, two draws with the Cougars setup a final pivotal match to determine who would enter the MCAC Championships in which the Blazers prevailed 2-1 on the ACC's home turf setting up a semi-final matchup with the top-seeded Brandon Bobcats. On paper the matchup looked to be a tough one with CMU dropping all three regular season meetings, however, the Blazers had been getting closer to contending with their Westman foes as the season progressed. Luck wasn't on the side of the green and gold on semi-final Saturday, as home field advantage went to Brandon, which seemed to be all the difference the Bobcats needed to advance to the finals. Brandon would go on to get upset in the championship game by St Boniface, who booked their ticket to CCAA Nationals with the MCAC Title win. CMU's Noah Schindel and Matheus Dos Anjos Aquino were named MCAC All-Stars during the playoff weekend, with Aquino earning All-Canadian status as one of the top two vote-receivers in conference all-star voting, making history as being in the first class of MCAC athletes to have the award bestowed on them. Aquino travelled to Langley, BC in November to attend the CCAA Men's Soccer Nationals where he received his award, and was able to take in first-hand the Nationals experience.

The women's soccer team improved their record in 2022/23, adding one more win over the 2021/22 season, which was still good for fourth place in the MCAC standings at the end of the regular season.  The squad took all three games over the Assiniboine Cougars, and added a win and a tie against the Brandon Bobcats who stood just above them in the table when all the dust settled on the season. The Blazers put together a strong string of games over two weekends in weeks four and five of the schedule that saw the team take five of a possible six points over their Brandon-based foes. Unfortunately, the team still had to meet the powerhouse and eventual champions St Boniface Rouges on MCAC Playoffs weekend for their semi-final match, when they fell 0-4 in what was their closest contest of the season, attesting to the growth of the team throughout the year. Second-year Ayesha Umar and fifth-year captain Tiegan Kroeker were both named MCAC All-Stars and received their awards prior to their final game.

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Blazers basketball was back in the Northern Intercollegiate Athletic Conference for the first time since the pandemic hit in 2020, albeit with an American-heavy travel schedule that saw the teams play all their competitions south of the border.

In MCAC play, the results of the men's basketball schedule which saw Providence go undefeated, St Boniface go winless, and the Blazers an even.500 did not properly prepare the fans for what would come at the 2023 Championships held at CMU's Loewen Athletic Centre. Although there were plenty of close contests during the regular season both against Les Rouges and the Pilots, CMU's semi-final matchup with St Boniface was a game to remember, requiring overtime before the Blazers eventually prevailed 97-96. The Championship Final the following day looked as though it might be going the same way with lead changes in the final three minutes that ultimately turned the way of the Pilots for a 66-62 final score. CMU's third-year big man Ezra Leano was named an MCAC All-Star, alongside first-year Daniel Cameron, who was named Co-MVP. Cameron had a statistically superb rookie campaign, leading the league in rebounds, which included a game on January 13 that saw the Regina, Saskatchewan native pull down 27 rebounds, a Blazers basketball record, leading him to be named the MCAC Athlete of the Week. In NIAC play, CMU's squad couldn't buy a win, playing to a number of very close finals that saw the Blazers end up on the wrong side of the scoreline every time. Nevertheless, the team still entered the championship quarter-finals in Plymouth, Minnesota as the seventh seed, where they narrowly missed out on upsetting the eventual finalists Turtle Mountain Mighty Mikinocks. The Blazers will hope to utilize home-court advantage more in the upcoming season, when their schedule will once again welcome American opponents to the Loewen.

Coming off last season's fourth-consecutive MCAC Championship Title, Blazers women's basketball looked set for another successful season with their offseason signings and returning players developing well under head coach Joe DiCurzio.  However, some last-minute subtractions to the projected starting lineup combined with a couple of pre-season long-term injuries left CMU's roster a bit thinner than hoped heading into the season. Nevertheless, DiCurzio worked his magic, relying heavily on his rising stars to carry heavy minutes such as Oluwanifemi Gbadamosi, Anna Pyne, and Briana Ehrmantraut, all three of whom received both MCAC and NIAC All-Star recognition, the latter two also sharing co-MVP honours. Working against the odds, the team gutted out a perfect 8-0 record in MCAC heading into championships, alongside a 8-2 record good for second place in the NIAC standings. The team's top seeding earned them a bye to the MCAC Finals held at CMU, and the team took full advantage of the extra day's rest, converting their fifth-straight MCAC Title, the eighth in program history. The following week the Blazers headed down to the Twin Cities for the NIAC Championships, where they met the seventh-seeded Free Lutheran Bible School and conquered them on their home court to setup a semi-final with Oak Hills the following day, in which they gutted out a 63-56 win to advance to the finals. Back in the NIAC Title game for the first time since 2020 when the Blazers doubled-down as both MCAC and NIAC champions, the CMU squad simply ran out of gas against a deep Trinity Lions team who went undefeated in NIAC play throughout the regular season giving CMU their only losses on the campaign. An incredibly successful season overall, there were plenty of highlights along the way as well, including a 116-27 win over Les Rouges which went into the books as the highest-scoring game in Blazers women's basketball history. In her fifth and final year of eligibility, Shirliz Apiyo made full use of limited playing time, only being allowed to play in games counting only towards MCAC standings, and recorded the first ever triple-double in league play in CMU Athletics history on January 25th, in her final regular season game.

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Blazers volleyball also returned to exhibition play this season after last year saw the teams compete only within Manitoba, enjoying trips to experience CCAA competition in the Vancouver area during the pre-season, as well as a trip to Southern Ontario following the Christmas break.

Coming off the first-ever appearance by an MCAC team at CCAA Men's Volleyball Nationals, Blazers men's volleyball enjoyed a dream start to the season, going 8-1 in the first half, carrying an eight-game win streak in league play from November 11 through to January 20, then finished out the MCAC schedule with a six-game streak. A healthy mix of veteran players working their way into the starting lineup, along with some fresh talent buoyed the Blazers to a 16-2 record, with their only two losses coming at the hands of the second place Providence Pilots. Although their pre-season exhibitions were very much a growth opportunity for the team, perhaps a highlight of the year was the team's third-place finish at the Niagara Knights Invitiational in January, when they met some quality CCAA-Nationally ranked competition heading into the second half. That result mixed with their dominant league play led the team to the highest ever ranking by an MCAC school in the CCAA National Rankings, peaking at eighth spot on February 14. Despite their fantastic record, the Blazers knew there would be stiff competition at the MCAC Championships, as the team was set to face a surging St Boniface squad on their own home court in their semi-final matchup. A rocky start gave Les Rouges the early set lead, but the Blazers settled in and battled to a hard-fought four-set victory to place themselves in the finals for the sixth-consecutive year, and in line to face the Pilots for the fifth time in a row. The Providence side entered the game confident with the return of Austin Anderson for the second half of the season, and the veteran setter was a big factor in picking apart CMU's defence in the title match. The Blazers tried valiantly to mount a response, but the momentum couldn't be swayed and the defending champions had their season end with a bad taste in their mouths, with Don Dulder's selection as MCAC Coach of the Year a small consolation. Despite falling in the MCAC Finals, CMU has won four of the last six MCAC titles, but have yet to find the elusive three-peat. Graduating setter Timothy Juvon en, alongside left sides Cameron Gayleard and Albert Francisco were all named to the MCAC All-Star lineup, and all received MCAC Athlete of the Week honours throughout the season, a testament to the depth, versatility and deep talent pool the Blazers had on their squad this season.

Blazers women's volleyball began their quest for an MCAC Championship title and berth in the CCAA Nationals with some stiff U Sports and CCAA pre-season competition, which saw the team perform admirably against some of the top teams across Canada. It was an MCAC women's volleyball season in which anything could happen on any given night, with the Blazers recording wins and losses against all three other teams in the conference throughout the season. The team had flashes of brilliance to be sure, but never seemed to sustain any momentum throughout the season, with their longest win streak of three games in league play spanning the Christmas break. A final matchup with the ACC Cougars determined seeding going into playoffs, in which the Blazers prevailed, giving them the favourable matchup on paper with Providence in the MCAC semi-finals. However, with equal 2-4 records against both the Pilots and Les Rouges, the Blazers' more recent success had come over the St Boniface side, and the team could not reproduce their upset magic from last years' championships when they edged the Pilots to advance to the finals. The Blazers' season was not without some big highlights, as a team heavy with second-year players saw many step further into the spotlight, while new additions made their mark as well. Second-year setter Paige Wright stepped into the starting role and was recognized for her top-level talent as an MCAC Athlete of the Week prior to the Christmas break, while rookie phenom left side Layla Reichert was recognized following the break for her explosive play. Reigning CMU Female Rookie of the Year Rachel Bartel was named as the Blazers' representative on the MCAC All-Star team for her consistently high level of play, and team-leading 159 kills.

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The MCAC Futsal seasons seemed to pass in a flash, as four weekends of tournament-style league play led up to the Copa de la Paz Championships held once again where it all began here at CMU's Loewen Athletic Centre.

Two weekends in Brandon along with games held in Providence and St Boniface determined the top-four teams to make the Championship tournament, and like in the outdoor season, the Blazers' men's futsal squad waited until late in the schedule to secure their seeding in the championships. With a small squad that relied heavily on a core group of players to eat up minutes, and solid play in goal from graduating keeper Zach Bartel, coach Anderson Pereira was able to get his group to take points in all four tournament weekends leading up to the playoffs, including a draw over last year's champions the Brandon Bobcats, as well as three of a possible four points over the Pilots and a perfect 2-0 record over the Cougars. Perhaps a highlight of the season was the Blazers' final win over the Pilots during their last tournament weekend, which not only secured the Blazers' spot in the MCAC playoffs, but also left Providence outside of championship contention with ACC grabbing the fourth seed for the first time in recent memory. However, as fate would have it, the Blazers' third place seeding going into playoffs had them matchup against a second-place St Boniface side who were the only team that the Blazers failed to take points from during the regular season. With an injury to key returnee Kieran Baydock who made the switch back to futsal from basketball for his final season, CMU found themselves in tough in their semi-final, eventually dropping the match in front of a sizeable home crowd that finally got their first and last taste of futsal for the year. CMU's only addition to the MCAC All-Star team was goalkeeper Zach Bartel, who grabbed MVP honours in his final year of play.

As with the outdoor schedule, Blazers women's futsal found wins against the Assiniboine Cougars, but unlike their autumn season found little success elsewhere, as the team came down to the final weekend of play to cement their spot in their only chance at home court play for the season at the MCAC Championships. Like the men's squad, the Blazers' semi-final matchup found themselves up against a powerhouse St Boniface side who had been able to keep CMU off the scoresheet throughout their previous two meetings. Unfortunately, playing on home court did not provide enough of an advantage on semi-final Saturday, as the green and gold fell to the eventual champions, ending their brief title run. With no regular season home matches played this year, CMU's graduating players Tiegan Kroeker and Rena Neufeld will be honoured for their contributions to the program at this year's Green and Gold Athletics Banquet.

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Introduced for the 2021/22 season, the MCAC True Sport Awards are given to nominated athletes who best exemplify the True Sport Principles on the field of play, in the classroom, and in the community. This year CMU nominated seven athletes over all four sports for the award, which also gives the recipients a chance to apply for the Bill Wedlake True Sport Award, a $250 prize given to two of the nominees.  From outdoor soccer, CMU's Gode Katembo made his second-consecutive appearance on the team, while Rena Neufeld joined for the first time in her final year of play. Blazers' sophomore forward Oluwanifemi Gbadamosi was selected from the women's squad in basketball's first year of True Sport eligibility, while second-year libero Lauren Ens was nominated from women's volleyball, and second-year setter David Nelson made the team on the men's side. A full list of recipients, their contributions to their team and community, and the True Sport Principles can be found on the MCAC website.

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