2019-20 AUS regular season set to kick off Friday
By: Dwayne Tingley
Acadia Axewomen Len Harvey is ready for an onerous challenge and he believes his players are feeling the same way.
The Axewomen are the two-time AUS defending champions.
"It's one of, if not the most difficult, conference to play in the country," Harvey noted. "Any team is a contender on any given night, and the rivalries make it even more difficult.
"That challenge is also what makes it a fun conference to coach and play in and an exciting one to watch," said Harvey, who is starting his fifth season as head coach of the Axewomen.
The Axewomen have seven players returning from last year's championship team. Key returnees are: Haley McDonald, Jayda Veinot and Sarsha Cadle. Kelsey Rice is recovering from a knee injury and there is a possibility she could be available in the second semester.
Harvey said the Axewomen will be working hard to integrate nine new players into the system and trying to get better every day.
The Memorial Sea-Hawks placed second in the AUS championship last season despite a fifth-place showing the regular season with a 9-11 record. They knocked off the first-place Cape Breton Capers (18-2) in the semifinal round before falling to the third-place Axewomen (13-7) in the final.
The Sea-Hawks have a young roster this season so head coach Mark English is keeping his focus on "getting better every day."
"Some keys to our success will be playing up-tempo style of offence by looking to keep the pace high and get extra possessions," English said. "Our defence is an area I think we can improve on from last season so we will have to be tough on that end of the floor."
"This year will be interesting," said English, who is beginning his fifth season at Memorial after previously coaching at UPEI.
"There has been some turnover around the league so every night will be a battle. I think we are in for a great year of basketball."
The UPEI Panthers (17-3) were second in the regular season standings last season, followed by the UNB Reds (12-8), Dalhousie Tigers (8-12), Saint Mary's Huskies (3-17) and StFX X-Women (0-20).
Regular season action begins on Friday, Nov. 1, when the Huskies visit the Panthers. On Nov. 2, the Sea-Hawks host the Reds, the Panthers host the Huskies, the Tigers welcome the X-Women and the Capers visit the Axewomen.
Head coach Fabian McKenzie, who has also spent the past 11 years with the Canadian National Women's Team as head coach of its development team, has set some modest goals for the Capers.
"The key," he said, "will be to take care of the basketball and play solid defence.
"I think the conference has two teams at the top and everyone else fighting for the other four playoff spots."
The Panthers have six players returning for head coach Matt Gamblin, who is beginning his second year at UPEI after coaching at Mount Allison for five seasons.
"Our goals this year are to get better every year and the keys to our success will be our focus—how well each player can do her job and how much improvement we can get individually and as a team," Gamblin said.
"The AUS is always a very competitive conference with very good coaching and a great depth of quality programs," he continued. "I just hope that all local fans get out to see AUS women's basketball this season—it is a great product and continues to get better every year."
The Huskies have only seven players returning from last year's team. Their roster features nine first or second-year players. High-energy guard Alaina McMillan is back for her sophomore season.
"It will be a very competitive league and our goal is to improve on a daily basis," said Scott Munro, who is beginning his 12th season as head coach of the Huskies.
"We want to be playing our best basketball at the end of the year," said Munro, a two-time Canada Games coach "Hopefully, with the youth we have we can accelerate the learning curve a bit and give ourselves a chance to compete on a nightly basis."
The 2020 AUS Subway AUS Basketball Championships presented by Keep It Social are slated for Feb. 28 to March 1 at Scotiabank Centre in Halifax.
The UNB Reds have 10 players returning, including all-star Mikaela Dodig, fifth-year starters Grace Simpson and Eva Turnwine and fourth-year post Krystal Osburn.
"We have not set our team goals yet, but I guess our goals include being in the AUS semifinal with a chance to win an AUS championship," said Jeff Speedy, who is beginning his 14th season as head coach at UNB.
Dalhousie head coach Anna Stammberger is excited about the new season, noting the Tigers will have a young, but talented team.
"Our goal is to be the best team we can possibly be and be strong enough to finish top four in league play, then take it one game at a time in the playoffs," said Stammberger who is beginning her 11th season with the Tigers.
"We've been pretty banged up in the pre-season and are looking forward and playing with a complete lineup. The conference is strong and most teams have improved from last season."
The X-Women will begin the season with six rookies and a goal of earning a playoff berth.
"We have a really young group that has added to the positive culture we are building here alongside our returnees," said second-year head coach Lee Anna Osei.
"The keys to our success will be staying healthy over the course of the year and pushing ourselves to reach our team's defensive goals consistently," she added. "The AUS is as gritty as it gets. At any given time, any team can lose to their opponent based on who sets the tone physically and execution wise."
Some of the key returning players with the X-Women are: Kimberly Kingsbury, the team's leading scorer; Jamie McCarron, the lone graduating senior; Brianna Gottschall, a member of the all-rookie team; and point guard Lucia MacKay.
"We are looking to making strides by having an identity as a team that gets after it and competes day in and day out," Osei said.
The 2020 U SPORTS national championship will be hosted by Carleton University March 6-8 in Ottawa, Ont.