There haven’t been too many better days for Acadia Athletics than last Sunday. In the space of a few minutes, in two different venues, the Axemen and Axewomen basketball teams both won conference championships.
To put this in perspective, the last time this happened was – actually, it’s never happened before, mainly because this was the first conference title for an Acadia women’s basketball team in more than 60 years.
The men have been considerably more successful over the years. Acadia’s win over St, F.X. Sunday in Halifax gave the Axemen their 17th title since 1961, the most of any team in the conference.
Their appearance at nationals this weekend will mark the 25th time in the 50-year history of the national tournament the Axemen have been part of the field, either as AUS champ, a wildcard or regional tournament host.
That’s really a remarkable achievement. Acadia has won three national titles and on six other occasions, has been national runner-up.
That’s also a record, by the way. This year’s win allows Acadia to break a tie with Brandon for the most appearances by a school at nationals.
This year’s Acadia teams made it to where they are by somewhat different paths.
The Axewomen, after steady improvement during each of the past four seasons, are a team with a talented and effective veteran core.
After years of being one of the youngest teams in the country, the Axewomen this year start one fifth-year, one fourth-year, two third-year and one second-year player, with another fifth-year first off the bench.
That had a lot to do with the Axewomen leading the standings from start to finish, and being nationally ranked all season.
Fifth-year senior Emma Duinker is the straw that stirs the drink, but she is ably supported by fellow Nova Scotians Stefanie Chapman, Lindsay Harris, Kristy Moore and sister Abbey Duinker.
Jasmine Parent, who would start on many teams, has been first off the bench all season, and has played like the crafty fifth-year veteran she is.
Rita Sibo, Melissa Gottschall, Carlie MacDonald and Jackie Caravella get the bulk of the playing time off the bench. They lack the experience of the starting six, but have shown steady improvement with more playing time.
With Emma Duinker, Parent and Chapman all scheduled to graduate in May, the future is now for the Axewomen.
There’s no telling how they’ll do at nationals March 16 to 18 in Calgary – after all, it’s a new experience for all of them – but one thing is for sure, they’ll be one of the hardest working crews there.
The Axemen, on the other hand, are an interesting combination of youth and big-game experience. Owen Klassen and Anthony Sears, both in their third year, are the veterans; Anthony Ashe spent two years at Carleton before transferring to Acadia and red-shirting the 2010-11 season.
The rest of the team is either in their first or second year. Acadia’s appearance at the 2011 Final Eight means Klassen, Sears, Lauchlan Gale and Tom Filgiano all have national experience.
For the record, the five starters are Klassen, who has played for Canada internationally; Sears, Ashe, Jonathan Tull (second year) and freshman point guard Sean Stoqua.
Bench players Gale, Filgiano, Bradley States and Tyler Scott have all been starters for the Axemen at one point or another in their careers.
Despite their recent success – AUBC champs this year, finalists a year ago – the Axemen are definitely built for the future as well as the present. Everyone on the roster has at least one year of eligibility remaining, and more in most cases.
The only thing to dampen Sunday’s elation is the Axemen being seeded eighth for nationals – behind even St. F.X., the team they defeated by 11 points in the conference final.
Presumably, the people who do the rankings had reasons for doing what they did, but to me, it makes little – if any – sense. It’s kind of like pulling the ladder out from under you while you’re busy cutting down the net.
The Axemen are taking the position that they would have to play top-ranked Carleton (their first-round opponent) sometime if they hope to win. They feel they’re ready, and I for one am not going to argue.