By John DeCoste
A 6-0 start to the regular season and a #2 national ranking is likely to please any head coach, and basketball Axemen mentor Steve Baur is no exception.
“It’s been a really positive start,” Baur acknowledged. “I’m obviously pleased with our record, and we’ve done some good things defensively and gotten some contributions from some unexpected sources.”
Arguably the most impressive thing about the Axemen - who have yet to lose to a CIS opponent this season - is that they have achieved what they have without Anthony Sears, who has missed the entire season so far due to an injury to his foot.
Rhys Larry, Tom Filgiano and Tyler Scott have also missed time due to injury and illness, while Brad States and Owen Klassen have played hurt.
“A lot of guys have filled roles we hadn’t anticipated, and we really haven’t missed a beat,” Baur said.
“When we started the season. I wasn’t expecting to be without Sears for this long. We were looking for good things from him, and still are on his return.”
On the other hand, he said, it’s put Acadia in a position where the other players have had to step up. One of those is Jon Tull, and he’s been “just phenomenal,” Baur said.
Tull has scored at a rate of 19 points per game so far, fourth in the conference, with a season-high 34 points in a game at UPEI.
“He’s done what he’s done in some really noticeable ways, but also in ways you wouldn’t notice as much,” Baur said.
Tull has been by no means alone. Both Klassen (16.3) and Anthony Ashe (15.7) were among the conference’s top-10 scorers.
Scott has joined Tull in stepping up in Sears’ absence, and Baur has also been very impressed with the play of first-year point guard A.J. Simmonds.
“A.J. has been a pleasant surprise. I’m not sure we realized, when we recruited him, that he would be this good this early.”
Pressed into duty as a starter due to injuries, “he’s helped a lot since day one, and he’s looked like a veteran doing it.”
Baur is also pleased to welcome Sean Stoqua back to the lineup after missing all but one game while playing a second season with the football Axemen.
“Sean had an great rookie season last year, and we’re expecting more of the same from him this year, especially in terms of his ability to control the game.”
Baur was cautiously optimistic of Sears being back in the lineup when the Axemen resume their regular season Jan. 5 against UPEI in Wolfville. He was hopeful Larry would be able to return by mid-January from a broken wrist.
If that wasn’t enough, Filgiano tore a hamstring Nov. 28 against St. F.X.
“We thought when it happened he might be gone for the year, but more recent updates suggest it might not end up being that long,” he said.
Dealing with all the injuries has been a test and a challenge to the Axemen.
“Luckily, we have great depth – and our depth has been getting the job done, which has made a bad situation that much better,” Baur said.
With the bulk of the season still to come, including four key games against Cape Breton and two against Saint Mary’s, Baur knows his team can’t stand still.
“Cape Breton will be four tough games, and St. F.X., Saint Mary’s and UPEI will also be tough,” he said. “Our focus has to be on winning the AUS, as there will only be one team from our conference guaranteed a spot at nationals. It makes each game important, no matter who we’re playing.”
The Axemen return to action at the Rod Shoveller tournament Dec. 28-30 at Dalhousie.