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Taking championship play on the road: Acadia Axemen proud to be hosting Final 8 men’s basketball championship

Acadia’s Eric Nissen gets ready to charge up the court with the Axemen in the March 2 game against St. FX.
Acadia’s Eric Nissen gets ready to charge up the court with the Axemen in the March 2 game against St. FX. - Nick Pearce photo

WOLFVILLE, NS - Being awarded hosting rights for the upcoming U SPORTS Final 8 men’s basketball championship is another feather in the cap for Acadia University.

Acadia hosts the event at the Scotiabank Centre in Halifax from March 8 to 11. Athletics and Community Events executive director Kevin Dickie said one of the keys to having a national-level university sport program is hosting national events.

“In a perfect world, we’d like to do it in Wolfville but there aren’t enough seats in our gym,” Dickie said. “It’s nice to be able to take our show on the road. We have a strong alumni contingent in Halifax and we’ll have a lot of alumni coming in from across the country for the event.”

After going several years without playing host, the university has been awarded hosting rights for several national university championships.

In addition to the upcoming Final 8 men’s basketball championship, Acadia hosted the national women’s soccer championship in 2016. The university has been awarded hosting rights for the 2018 women’s national rugby championship in Wolfville this fall and it will host the national men’s hockey championship, the University Cup, in Halifax in March of 2020. Acadia also hosted the national football semi-final this past fall, the 2017 Uteck Bowl.

Dickie said hosting the U SPORTS Final 8 is significant in this regard, as Acadia has renewed its focus on recruiting major events as part of the Destination Acadia initiative. He said Halifax is a great city in which to host an event such as the national basketball championship and it’s another event that Acadia is proud to have its brand associated with.

Acadia men’s basketball head coach Kevin Duffie said hosting the Final 8 is a huge deal for the Axemen. Getting a guaranteed chance to play on a national stage is great news for the Acadia basketball program.

“We have quite a history at the U SPORTS, formerly CIS, national championships with the most appearances of any university to date,” Duffie said.

This will be Acadia’s 25th appearance in the national championship tournament. He said it’s great for the players to have this opportunity and it’s amazing to have Acadia’s name featured prominently on a national stage.

He said there would be some university players who go through their entire varsity career without having such an opportunity and this fact isn’t lost on the Axemen.

“They’re certainly excited about it for sure,” Duffie said.

He said it’s so far, so good for Acadia’s season. They have a solid team with a lot of depth featuring several veteran players and they’ve continued to improve all year taking things one day at a time. Duffie said on Feb. 27 that they’re playing some of their best basketball to date and it’s great going into some of their most important games of the year.

“We have the AUS championship this weekend and we want to show well there and that will help for a seeding at nationals as well. I think we’ve had a good year, very promising, and I think we’ll represent ourselves very fine at the national championship,” Duffie said.

He said bringing the national championship home to Acadia and Wolfville would make a huge impact. It would be great to be able to do this for the school and the area. The Acadia Axemen are three-time national university basketball champions, winning one title in the 1960s and two in the 1970s.

National rugby, hockey championships

Dickie said hosting the 2018 women’s national rugby championship in Wolfville will be significant on a number of levels.

He said it will be great for Acadia’s program from a recruiting perspective. Hosting will enhance rugby across the Annapolis Valley, where there are already strong high school programs, by increasing the profile of the sport. Dickie said he believes the impact will be similar to hosting the 2016 women’s soccer championship.

“It was full-on opportunity for the country to see Acadia University, one of the nicest campuses and most beautiful communities in the country, so it’s huge,” he said.

Dickie said being awarded hosting rights for the 2020 University Cup is also a huge opportunity for Acadia. Having a university of Acadia’s size hosting the national hockey championship is not normally the case. The campus has a storied hockey history and Dickie said he believes hosting nationals is well deserved. It’s the first time Acadia has been given the honour.

“It will be good for the brand of university hockey but it will be good for our program to host it as well,” he said.

Kirk.starratt@kingscountynews.ca

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