There was a lot of furor throughout the Atlantic university basketball community when the Acadia Axemen received the eighth and final seed to last week’s nationals.
The Axemen, after all, had just won the conference championship, yet there they were, seeded behind even St. F.X., the team they had just defeated in the conference final.
Not to take anything away from St. F.X., which was the best team in the conference all season, but any coach I’ve ever spoken to has told me the goal of any team in any given season is to win the final game they play.
If the AUS championship had been the final game of the 2011-12 season, the Axemen would have won, the X-Men would have lost.
Both teams had already advanced to the Final Eight, but the understanding was the winner would get the higher seeding – or at least, that’s the way it usually works.
If that isn’t going to happen, what’s the point of playing the game at all?
Needless to say, everything turned out all right in the end. Neither the Axemen or X-Men ended up winning the national title, but both teams won the final game they played – St. F.X. for third place, Acadia for fifth.
At the time, the tournament seeding Acadia received was more than a bit of a slap in the face – and I’m still not sure I agreed with it.
On the other hand, I do agree with Axemen head coach Steve Baur that everything worked out as well as it possibly could have for Acadia.
The Axemen opened against Carleton, the overwhelming top seed and tournament favourite.
Acadia gave the undefeated Ravens all they could handle for 35 minutes, and though they ended up losing 82-68, it was the closest any of the three teams Carleton played in the tournament came to beating the champs.
It was invaluable experience for the young Acadia team, to play – and play that well for that long – against the top team in the country.
The Axemen won both their consolation games, against Lakehead, the No. 2 team in the nation for most of the season, and a tough Ryerson squad, staging inspiring and dramatic comebacks to win both games.
To their credit, the Axemen, who could have hung their heads and bemoaned their fate, instead took the lemons they were dealt by the seeding committee and made a nice batch of lemonade.
And the best thing is, the still-young Axemen can return the exact same team not only next season, but very possibly the season after that – not to mention the players Baur, a good recruiter, might add in the meantime.
And all those players can only get better playing together and with more experience and maturity under their respective belts.
Now the scene shifts to the Axewomen, who hope to make a statement of their own with their first-ever trip to nationals this weekend in Calgary.
At least the Axemen had some prior context, as a handful of this year’s players also made it to nationals a year ago. For the women, and for everyone connected with the team, this will be a totally new experience.
It won’t be easy, by any means. Acadia’s fifth-place seeding is just about where they belong, and all four teams seeded ahead of them are not only very good, but are also significantly bigger than Acadia’s players.
The Axewomen, though, have shown us all season they are great at battling adversity and rising to the challenges presented to them. There’s no real reason they can’t do it this weekend as well.
As coach Bev Greenlaw said, “we’ll show up, do the best we can and see what happens, just like we have all season.”
They may not win it all, but win or lose, they’ll make us all proud, just like the Axemen did.