By Jason Malloy
It will be a homecoming for four players, three coaches and a manager as the UPEI Panthers basketball teams visit Wolfville this weekend.
The Panthers play Acadia at 6 (women) and 8 (men) p.m. in Atlantic University Sport (AUS) action Jan. 17 and 18.
Candace Smith, a guard with the Panthers women’s team, and men’s Panthers players Ellis Ffrench, Joe Kendrick, Lorenzo Parker, coaches Tim Kendrick and Marvin Rhyno and manager Greg Moore are all from Kings County. The men’s assistant coach Lonnie States is from Windsor,
“It’s something we can all enjoy, going back and hopefully putting on a good show and getting a couple of good wins,” Ffrench said.
It’s not going to be easy. The Axemen lead the conference at 7-2 and have a four-point advantage over the Panthers (5-5), who are tied for second with UNB and Saint Mary’s.
“We’re up to the challenge,” Ffrench said. “We played them pretty close a couple of times now and we’re confident in our
Coach Kendrick said going home is good for both programs.
“Our guys would have grown up cheering for Acadia and grown up being at the gym shooting,” he said. “Acadia loves it because the place is full. . . There will be a large UPEI section there, I think.”
The Axemen are ranked ninth in the country and have a stable of top-end talent.
“They’re a very good team and they deserve to be in the top 10 in the country,” Kendrick said. “We have to make sure we play the way we have been playing.”
The Panthers started the season with four straight losses, including two to an Axemen team missing key pieces during the opening weekend in November.
The Panthers believe they have turned the corner and are looking forward to this weekend’s challenge.
“From the start of the season we had high expectations,” said Ffrench, the team’s starting point guard. “As good as I feel like we are playing now, I think we’re finally . . . where we thought we should be.”
On the women's side, the Panthers look to snap a four-game losing streak tonight in the Acadia gym. The Panthers are 4-6 while the Axewomen are 3-6.
“Hopefully we can get back on that winning track,” said coach Greg Gould.
The Panthers swept the Axewomen to open the season Nov. 8 and 9 in Charlottetown.
“They’re playing pretty well right now,” Gould said of Acadia. “They have a lot of splits against teams we’ve played against and they always seem to be tough in Acadia.
“We’re going to have to have our A game.”
The Axewomen have a big front court and play a lot of zone. The Panthers will look to pressure the ball and score in transition.
“When we get into the half court, we’re going to have to execute our offence and we’re going to have to make some shots.”
The game will mark Smith’s first game back at home.
“She’s a pretty experienced player,” Gould said of the freshman. “If anything I expect her probably to play better at home. I think she’ll be a little more fired up.”