By John DeCoste
The Acadia basketball Axemen ended up fourth at the latest CIS Final Eight in Ottawa. That’s the bad news, but the rest of the news heading into next season is pretty much all good.
Head coach Steve Baur’s goal over the past several years has been to put together a team that would be competitive on the national stage. He’s certainly done that.
This year’s appearance at the Final Eight was Acadia’s third in a row, and the Axemen have improved with each successive appearance.
There’s no question Carleton is the top dog in university men’s basketball right now, and has been for most of the past decade. The stats and wins speak for themselves.
However, for each of the past two years, Acadia has played Carleton tougher than any of the Ravens’ other opponents, losing by 14 last year (in a game that anyone who saw it would agree was quite a bit closer than that) and by 15 this time around.
They haven’t shied away in the least from the tough match-ups, and Baur has said more than once he would always rather play teams like Carleton head-to-head.
The score of this year’s bronze medal game aside, Acadia was easily the second best team in this year’s field. And if the Axemen had drawn anyone but Carleton in the semi-finals, it likely would have been Acadia-Carleton in the final.
The Axemen will head into 2013-2014 with most of this year’s roster intact. They will lose Tom Filgiano and Lauchlan Gale, but Baur agrees he has Filgiano‘s replacement already on the roster in A.J. Simmonds.
Moreover, the loss of Gale should be lessened by both the continued development of Kyle Arseneault and the return from injury of six-foot, eight-inch Rhys Larry, who appeared primed for good things this season before breaking a wrist.
That’s in addition to fifth-year seniors Owen Klassen (a first-team all-Canadian), Anthony Sears and Anthony Ashe, and other talented players such as Brad States, Sean Stoqua and Tyler Scott.
The latter three players all started for Acadia down the stretch and in the playoffs, gaining invaluable experience in the process.
I’m also expecting Baur to perform his usual magic as a recruiter and bring in depth at those positions where the Axemen might be perceived to be a bit weak.
He already has a commitment from Horton Griffin Alex Thomas, arguably the top available student-athlete from the local area, who will no doubt make an impact in time. Baur is admittedly after a couple more frontcourt players as well.
I will admit, I did feel bad at times for the Axewomen, who were forced to deal with just about every form of adversity there was this past season. They deserve a lot of credit for hanging in there and battling for as long as they could.
While some might suggest the immediate future isn’t quite as bright for the Axewomen as the Axemen, I personally have a lot of belief in Bev Greenlaw as a coach, and believe that given the effort (and players), he can compete with anyone.
The Axewomen lose a big piece of their puzzle in the graduating Lindsay Harris, but they return Abbey Duinker and Kristy Moore for a fifth and fourth year respectively.
In fact, all five players who started for Acadia in the playoffs – Duinker, Moore, Rita Sibo, Carlie MacDonald and rookie Aprille Deus – are eligible to return.
Many of the Axewomen showed great improvement this past season with added playing time and responsibility - none, in my opinion, more than Sibo, who stepped up her game considerably from Christmas to the end of the season.
In addition, Greenlaw already has commitments from six recruits for next season and beyond, which should go a long way to alleviating the thin roster numbers that were more the rule than the exception this past season.
Moreover, he hints there may possibly be more recruit announcements prior to the beginning of next season.
I’m not expecting any of the new players to make a huge difference right away, but I am thinking Allie Berry, a six-foot post player from Yarmouth, has the skill set to hopefully be a nice complement to Duinker in the post next season.
Another recruit, Maire Burke from Auburn Drive, stands six feet four inches tall. I haven’t seen her play as I have Berry, but that’s an impressive height for a female player, and Greenlaw speaks highly of her.
Other committed recruits include guards Katie Ross (Halifax Grammar), Chanel Smith (Halifax West) and Keesha Peterson (Dartmouth) and Emily McLeod, a highly-regarded six-foot post player from Fredericton High School.
More than anything, the new players represent numbers, and this past season proved that, more than anything, that’s what the Axewomen need right now.