Jenna Howell, Rachel Cunningham and Gemma Leblanc, members of the Acadia varsity women’s soccer team, have all proved that childhood friendships can stand the test of time. These three athletes would even say that their lifelong connection is an asset to the women’s soccer team at Acadia.
“It’s just like a chemistry on the field, you just know how they’re going to play, what they’re going to do,” Leblanc explained.
The three girls have been playing together since they began playing under-12 competitive soccer, while Leblanc and Cunningham have been playing together since under-eight. Somewhere between U12 and today, all three girls chose to attend Acadia University - something that's been on their minds since those first few years playing soccer together back in Dartmouth.
Acadia on the brain
All former members of the Dartmouth United Soccer Club, the trio grew up with Acadia on their brains. Current varsity women’s soccer coach Amit Batra was also a coach with Dartmouth United and has been helping these girls hone their soccer skills since they were in elementary school. They also credit coach Katie Aucoin, an Acadia alumnus, with convincing them that Acadia University was the place to be.
Leblanc says Aucoin introduced her to Acadia.
“We had a coach, Katie Aucoin, and she came here, so growing up they’d always take our team for Acadia weekends. So, we were basically brainwashed from a young age," she kids.
Cunningham also said Aucoin played a major role in her reason to choose Acadia.
"I was just convinced from age 10 that Acadia was the best," she said.
Leblanc is now working hard to do for current soccer players what Aucoin did for her 10 years ago
“I coached a lot at home, and my whole Dartmouth team was here on Sunday, and they all had their Acadia shirts. And they all want to play here already," she said.
All three girls emphasize the team-first attitude on the Axewomen team as a reason for their continued love of soccer at Acadia, as well as the success of the team.
“There’s really good chemistry, we’re all on the same page and we work really hard to make sure we all have the same goals and want the same outcomes,” said Howell.
Added Cunningham, “At the end of the day, our team is not motivated for individual reasons, but really for team reasons."
The girls said this attitude helps bring the entire team closer together.
“We’re all just like a really close-knit team, we’re all really close, and we’re all good friends,” says Leblanc.
Playing soccer on a team with so many other athletes who call Nova Scotia home is also extremely special, Leblanc added. When the girls came into training camp in their first year, they already knew 80 per cent of the team, primarily from playing either with or against each other throughout their soccer careers.
For Batra, these lifelong friendships within the varsity women’s soccer team are only going to improve the team’s overall level of play and better prepare them for the season ahead.
“The interconnections here - now that I’m thinking about it - are pretty neat," he added.
Many of the Axewomen have been playing together since long before AUS soccer was their plan, and Cunningham, Leblanc and Howell are only one example.