Optimism is high that this can be the season that the Hawks return to the Nationals, especially after last season's run to OUA West semi-finals which included a 19 point quarter-final win at higher-ranked Western followed by the third game in which they played conference champions Windsor Lancers very tough before wilting a bit in the fourth quarter at the St. Denis Center. A week earlier, Laurier blew a big, late lead to lose to the Lancers in overtime. So coach Peter Campbell and team now know they can play with the better teams in Canada but must overcome the loss to graduation of All-Star Jesse MacDonald, their leading scorer and go-to guy when it mattered offensively.
But plenty of talent remains, led by 6'5" fourth year forward Kale Harrison, who looks to take that next step from being a surprisingly great freshman to having MacDonald to play off of to now becoming the focal point of opponent's defensive focus. Harrison remains on the slender slide and he is more comfortable shooting over opponents - taking that next step as a breakdown guy who can power to the rim should push him into a 1st Team all-conference type. Fellow forward 6'4" Max Allin had a tremendous freshman campaign, playing with tremendous confidence and not backing down physically. Allin has range beyond the three point line and will stick his nose into things when necessary. Allin is another in the growing line of underrated but immediate high productivity freshman that Coach Campbell has dotted his rosters with. 6'5" Matt Buckley is a lunch bucket, banger type who provides a consistent physical and rebounding presence. He is adequate around the rim and will log more minutes as his offensive consistency rises.
Adding to a deep and imposing front line is 6'7" freshman Pat Donnelly, who joins the Hawks after one season at Procter Academy, a U.S. prep school in New Hampshire. Originally from Oakville, Donnelly is an explosive forward who is equally comfortable shooting it and banging inside. The youngster should push for time immediately and will join his older brother 6'5" Matt Donnelly on the Hawks. Another experienced forward who has contributed over his first three seasons is 6'6" Connor Meschino, now entering his fourth year and a definite rotation guy. These six forwards should more than make up for the loss due to graduation of 6'8" shot blocking sensation Andrew Pennycook and 6'5" Evan Schwantz, who will spend this academic year in Ireland as an exchange student.
With such a deep front court and the loss to graduation of MacDonald, Campbell focused on replenishing his back court which has only three still-young returning players led by third year 5'10" PG Travis Berry who continues to seek the consistency needed to push toward an all-conference guard type. Berry shoots it well when open and must create more over the course of 30-35 minutes to make that next leap. 5'9" Osman Omar, in his second season, provides some energy and continues to learn to deal with the physicality and size disadvantages he normally will encounter. 6'4" Sharif Wanis, now in his third season, can be a wild card on the wing for the Hawks especially defensively as he evolves into his upper classmen seasons.
Campbell went into the GTA to secure a pair of athletic guards to add backcourt depth, starting with 5'11" Nathan Thompson from Brampton Notre Dame who at 150 pounds will become more effective and durable as he adds strength. Thompson has been nursing an ankle injury but when fit can get to the rim and shoot it, adding some breakdown ability to the guard spot. Also brought in is 6'2" DeJaun Sutherland from Vaughan Collegiate who may be worked onto the roster over time.
The strength of the Hawks appears to be with the long, physical front line that goes at least six players deep. With the relative youth at the guard spots, getting the ball below the foul line off the dribble with consistency will be the underlying key to how well Laurier can score the ball. A bigger lineup is also possible and, as long as the guard play is adequate or better, expect Laurier to again be squarely in the OUA West playoff picture.
The Hawks started their pre-season last night with a comfortable 87-56 win over Fanshawe College (OCAA) and meet their first CIS opponent tonight at home when CIS Nationals finalist UBC Thunderbirds visit.