After a season plagued with challenges, the Lakeland Rustlers Men’s Basketball team finished the year as Alberta Colleges Athletic Conference Consolation champions. This past weekend, the Rustlers hosted the ACAC championships coming away with 5th place.

Teams around Alberta flocked to the Lloydminster campus with the hopes of winning gold and heading to nationals. Although it was a rough start for the Rustlers, Head Coach Sheray Thomas says Lakeland Athletics was able to showcase why they have been so successful over the past couple years.

“We’re just trying to continue that trend. It was also good to get people from Alberta that haven’t been to Lloyd before. You hear things and you have that description in your mind and then you get here, and it’s not so bad.”

Thomas adds there was great fan support as well as the amount of support from the school such as professors and students.

“I know plenty of people where that was probably their first time watching basketball or first time watching a basketball event. They were surprised by the level of basketball and the speed of the game so it was great just having that.”

The team came into the weekend placed fourth in the North Division and were immediately matched up with the first place south division SAIT Trojans. Despite foul troubles slowing them down, the Rustlers kept the game close until halftime. The Trojans ended up pulling away in the second half winning 98-77.

“We played a tough team, a veteran team. A game we could have won, but we made too many mistakes near the end of the game. They got easy baskets and got away with it. I think the score was more lopsided than the game actually was, so with that draw and not be able to come out on that first game, it hurts you because if you lose that first game you aren’t able to medal.”

The team finished strong in the next two games of provincials beating the Keyano Huskies and the Red Deer Kings for the Consolation Championship. The SAIT Trojans ended up winning the ACAC championship for the third year in a row. They beat the Concordia Thunder Saturday night in the gold medal game.

Last year was the second time in school history that the Rustlers earned a berth at the CCAA Men’s Basketball Championships. The last CCAA berth was in 2008. The Rustlers finished second in the ACAC last year and looked to build off that success this season.

Thomas says he believes the team wasn’t at full strength for 70 per cent of the season due to many factors. He says the game plan for next season stays the same as he looks to bring his core group of players back on the court.

“The ACAC Championship, we had a tough go. We didn’t help ourselves with the regular season. We had some adversity with guys being ineligible, hurt, guys being suspended for games and all that stuff that goes with it.”

Thomas admits that In college athletics it’s tough to say if your team will look the same the next season. He says he expects 80 per cent of the players to commit next season.

“Next year could be a year for us if we have these guys committed, and we have possibly some guys returning from a couple of years ago that will be strong on the fifth year side, we will have four or five fifth-year players. If we have that I think we can match up with anybody in the country.”