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Team tops the Atlantic conference standings, but it looks like it will need to do more to get noticed in the rest of the country
They sit in first place in the Atlantic University Sport (AUS) women’s basketball standings, led by the country’s second-leading scorer. But it looks like the Memorial Sea-Hawks will have to at least replicate their early-season success in the new year if they are to get any real national recognition.
The weekly U Sports (Canadian university) varsity rankings came out Tuesday and the Sea-Hawks weren’t included in the women’s hoops top-10 list; they didn’t even get a nod as an honourable mention. In fact, Memorial didn’t get any points in the balloting by head coaches across the country.
If he was allowed, Memorial head coach Mark English might throw a vote the Sea-Hawks’ way, but coaches aren’t permitted to vote for their own teams.
As it is, he isn’t surprised at the latest top-10 outcome, noting that on the whole, the AUS isn’t seen as an elite conference elsewhere in the country; no AUS team made this week’s top-10 list.
“I don’t think anyone else sees us in the mix for the top 10,” said English, pointing out that nationally, teams make first impressions during exhibition play.
“It starts in the pre-season, and this pre-season, we lost games to some teams who don’t have as good a record as us right now,” said English, whose Sea-Hawks are 6-2 in the regular season, after going 3-3 in exhibition play.
“When making comparisons, that’s the sort of thing being considered. Coaches are looking and probably thinking ‘Yeah, they’re doing all right in the AUS, but …’”
There was also skepticism within the conference itself. In a pre-season AUS coaches poll, Memorial finished tied for fifth place with the Saint Mary’s Huskies. As a prediction, it said the Sea-Hawks, who lost last year’s championship final to the Acadia Axewomen, would just make it into the playoffs in 2019-20.
“I kind of knew what we had, but I never expected the coaches at the other schools to know. And to be honest, nobody knows for sure until you start playing games." — Coach Mark English
Again, there was understanding from English, whose team experienced a significant off-season roster turnover, losing four starters, including perennial all-star and team-leading scorer Sydney Stewart. Overall, players who were given three-quarters of last season’s total starting assignments were not back this fall.
“That was a factor for sure, with coaches looking at us and how many players we lost from last season, which meant they really weren’t sure what we might be able to do,” said English.
“Plus, we had played two games against SMU in Corner Brook and split with them. I guess when (the other AUS coaches) were voting, that’s what they basing their thinking on.
“I kind of knew what we had, but I never expected the coaches at the other schools to know. And to be honest, nobody knows for sure until you start playing games. Well, we’ve played, and give credit to the girls for what they have done and for the fact they aren’t getting caught up too much in anything.
“They’re just working hard and playing well.”
Leading the way is fifth-year guard Haille Nickerson, whose 22.3 points-per-game average is second highest in the country, behind only Faith Hezekiah of Winnipeg, who checks in with a whopping 28.0 ppg stats line.
Besides Nickerson, the Sea-Hawks have second-year guard Alana Short (13.1) and off-the-bench whiz Sammi Deakin-Sharpe (12.4) in the top 15 in conference scoring
After a sweep of the St. FX X-Women in Antigonish, N.S., last weekend, Memorial enters the six-week exam/holiday break with 18 points, two more than Acadia, and having shed its underdog tag, something that happened when it beat the defending champion and previously undefeated Axewomen as part of a two-game split earlier this month at the Field House in St. John’s.
“Obviously, we’ve put it out there that we are serious contenders, that we are a good team,” said English.
“But still a wide-open league. This is truly a league where anyone can win on any given night and we can’t forget that.”
Even though the conference standings show Memorial at the top, that same table can be seen as offering support for English’s caution.
The Sea-Hawks lead on points, thanks, in part, to the fact the wins over St. FX came in games worth four points each. At 6-1, Acadia still has the best winning percentage in the conference, with Saint Mary’s and UPEI — which had been pegged as No. 1 in the pre-season coaches poll — close behind at 5-2.
“There are no ‘gimme’ games in the AUS this season,” said English. “That can be stressful for the coaches, but it does for a very entertaining league.”