The Ryerson Rams men’s basketball team yearns for redemption.
The team entered this season fueled by its historic No. 4 ranking. Before the season’s start, Ryerson announced it will host the CIS Final 8 tournament in 2014-15.
That’s a lot of pressure.
Last year, the Rams thought they were ready to handle that sort of pressure. They were wrong.
Posters filled the walls of the Mattamy Athletic Centre, commercials aired on the Score and fans couldn’t stop talking about it. The buzz around last year’s team nearly replicated the following they earned when they made the CIS Final 8 the year before. Ryerson hosted the 2012-13 Wilson Cup, where the OUA Final Four is played. A 10-game winning streak in the middle of the season earned them a No. 9 ranking and convinced fans they were serious contenders.
But students’ hopes came crumbling down when the Rams lost 74-70 to the Ottawa Gee-Gees in the OUA quarter-finals, and failed to qualify for the Wilson Cup.
“Is it disappointing to lose at that stage of the season? Absolutely,” said head coach Roy Rana.
He says there have been expectations on his side to be a national power since they finished sixth at the CIS Final 8 in 2011-12, beating No. 2 Lakehead in the Wilson Cup and No. 3 Concordia in the nationals.
“I think certainly there are expectations among my players, amongst staff, amongst our team and amongst our program that we’re going to be amongst the best programs in the country every year.”
This wasn’t always the case.
For a team that made the CIS Final 8 only once before in 1998-1999, hopes to make yearly visits to the tournament may be too high for the team to handle. York University sports psychologist Paul Dennis says expectation can lead to pressure which affects player performance.
“The team can interpret expectation as a challenge or a threat,” he said. “If the brain interprets it as a threat, it forces errors and turnovers during games.”
Dennis worked in a similar position with the Toronto Maple Leafs for 20 years before joining York.
“I can remember Wendel Clark saying to me, ‘there’s no such thing as pressure.’ Winning was so important it wasn’t even discussed.”
Dennis says veterans like Clark thrived under expectations but inexperienced players are prone to crumbling under that weight.
“(In 2003-2004) we had a huge picture of the Stanley Cup in the weight room. Players came in and looked at it every day.
“In exit meetings, one of the younger players mentioned it was too much pressure,” Dennis said. “It was sour grapes because you have to take the responsibility.”
The thought of not playing in this year’s Wilson Cup or the CIS nationals isn’t being discussed by the team. Forward Bjorn Michaelson says last year’s loss against Ottawa taught the team valuable lessons.
“(The loss) gave guys a lot of drive in the summer because we don’t want the same things to happen,” he said, while reiterating the team’s goal of playing in the nationals. “We don’t want to produce the same mistakes as last year.”
If they have accepted the loss, Dennis says, they’ll be able to take a step forward and deal with this season’s expectations.
“There’s always a silver lining in losing,” Dennis said. “When teams come up short, they have to come prepared to be on the winning side. The loss has to be discussed and accepted. If they can do that, they’re guaranteed to go out hard next time.”
The Rams (1-1) opened their season on Friday with an impressive 84-67 victory against the Brock Badgers in St. Catharines. They failed to repeat their performance on Saturday in Hamilton as they lost 74-64 to the unranked McMaster Marauders.
Rana’s team still has a few kinks to work out. Dennis says dealing with expectations will have to be overcome to have a shot at playing in the OUA Wilson Cup on home turf.
“It could go one of two ways – it can be an incredible motivator or too much pressure. The choice is theirs.”