With the UNB Varsity Reds 2014-15 campaign now complete, the Brunswickan sat down with athletic director John Richard to discuss the program’s performance this year and what to expect in the coming season.
The Brunswickan: The Varsity Reds just had a phenomenal year. What do you attribute this to?
Richard: I would say two or three things. Obviously the leadership we have in our program from our coaches and the quality of our student athletes — and again that could go back to [leadership]. The quality of student-athletes our current coaches are recruiting is just phenomenal, and obviously the support we get on campus from our president to our vice-president to our dean, they are all big supporters of our program. I couldn’t do my job without their support.
The Brunswickan: What has been the highlight of the year?
Richard: I wouldn’t say there’s one highlight. We’ve had a lot of success within the field of play, on the field, on the court, on the ice, in the pool, on the track … so it’s hard to pinpoint one moment. There have been some good stories. Men’s basketball is a good story, women’s soccer is a good story, but that doesn’t take away from the programs that always seem to be good stories. I thought some other teams made some progress as well, so it’s really tough to narrow it down to one on-court highlight.
The Brunswickan: Which team’s success or failure was the biggest surprise?
Richard: I don’t think we had a lot of failure really, frankly speaking, humbly speaking. If you start in the fall, Jon Crossland has that women’s soccer program in a [great] spot. To go from where that team was to the top of a ten-team league as quickly as they have is a little bit of a surprise for sure. To get on top of a ten team league is pretty special and to do it as quickly as they have is pretty special as well.
The Brunswickan: There were some heartbreaking losses in the playoffs this year. What was the most disappointing moment?
Richard: Someone said to me a couple of weeks ago that the teams were “upset.” In order to be upset in playoffs, you have to be a high seed, so I take that as somewhat of a compliment. A lot of our teams are young too. I mean, that’s the thing that a lot of folks I don’t think realize, how young some of our core programs are. I mean, look at the all-Canadians we have, how many are second- and third-year athletes. The first step to competing is being there all the time, and to be there all the time you need to be high seeds. Some may say the men’s basketball team was upset, but you look at the Dalhousie Tigers, that team got on a roll and got to the national quarterfinal where they almost took out UVic. When you get to playoffs everyone’s good and when you get to CIS nationals everyone’s good.
The Brunswickan: The women’s basketball team had a disappointing year due to injuries and youth. Will they be prepared to represent UNB when they host CIS nationals next year?
Richard: I had the pleasure of going to Florida with that team in December and I like that group. When we went to Florida I believe they were in second spot, so they were on the path too, but the reality is you fast forward to Scotiabank Centre in late February and three of five starters were no longer in their lineup. I think [head coach Jeff Speedy] will have that team ready to compete for next March in the Currie Center. The last time we hosted women’s basketball, we went in as the eighth seed and we upset No. 1 in the first round. I’m not saying coach Speedy has to do that but I think they’ll be a year older, a year better. They lose a quality student-athlete in Colleen Daly but they don’t lose anything else, and [Speedy] is recruiting hard, so I fully expect them to be right there.
The Brunswickan: What’s the plan for promoting the CIS Women’s Basketball National Championship that is to be hosted here next year?
Richard: We’re in the fortunate spot that we’ve hosted nine or ten of these over the last ten or 12 years, so we know what we’re getting into. The beauty of basketball is that it comes with three nationally televised games, so that’s a neat dynamic that you only get in basketball and hockey. We’ve hosted women’s basketball in the Aitken Centre, so it will be pretty neat as this will be the first [national championship], outside of wrestling last year, being hosted in the Currie Center. We’ll do everything we normally do and try to crank it up more but certainly people in this community are going to know about it.
The Brunswickan: What’s your opinion on the current format of the CIS “Super Championship Weekend?”
Richard: We defer to TV, and them being the experts, on overloading the weekend and that it’s the best method. It’s a two-year trial so we’ll see. If you look ahead, if men’s basketball is able to knock down that door and get there, they’re in UBC, we’d be hosting the women’s [basketball] here at the Currie Center and the men’s hockey team could be back at the Scotiabank Centre. How you service that I don’t know, but it’s a heck of a good problem to have and we are just going to have to get creative if we’re in that mess — but I hope we are in that mess.
The Brunswickan: Students are rarely seen on campus wearing Varsity Reds clothing — outside of varsity athletes. Why do you think that is?
Richard: We struggle there. The bookstore has never picked up our clothing, where as you look at a school like Acadia or StFX, you can walk in the bookstore and buy [varsity] clothing. We now have a distributor on campus again as SubTowne has picked it back up. We’ve started selling our clothing, for the first time ever, at basketball events, volleyball events and on the concourse of the Aitken Centre, so hopefully those strategies can improve on that [trend] for sure.
The Brunswickan: Will there be any significant changes to the Varsity Reds athletics program next year?
Richard: I don’t think so. Hopefully we can continue this level of success or something similar. I think we’re due for a program review. Every five to eight years I think it’s healthy to do a program review and have someone come and look at your programming. In the next year or two we need to complete that exercise, and what that leads to I don’t know. Will that result in any changes in the program next year? No, absolutely not.