WOLFVILLE, N.S. - Sara Baxter was already returning to Acadia for a fifth year, but even if she hadn't planned to, the fact that the rugby Axewomen are hosting nationals in the fall of 2018 would have been a great incentive.
"I was planning all along to be here five years for rugby, so with us hosting nationals, it's worked out really well," Baxter, a Moncton native, said in a recent interview. "Our team should be really strong, and there are a couple of former players planning to come back and play a fifth season this fall."
Baxter is studying toward an honours degree in business administration, with a major in accounting and a co-op component. "It's been a fantastic option," she said of the co-op. "I don't know why anyone wouldn't choose it if they had the chance."
As part of the co-op program, Baxter spent from January to June of 2017 studying abroad at Plymouth University in Plymouth, England. "Plymouth doesn't have a business agreement with Acadia, so I chose computer science. It was really different, and harder than I expected."
In fact, "the whole concept of school is different in the U.K. My course was Computing, and it was a different experience. I could only stay one semester, so I had to pick somewhere where I knew the language (either English or French - she did French immersion all through school)."
At the same time, it turned out to be a really positive experience. "The culture was amazing, I got the chance to travel, and I got to play for their rugby club team."
Even though "the quality of rugby was lower than here – the club league was probably the equivalent of high school here – I had fun, and got to play other positions which I've never been able to do here." As an added bonus, "the team I played on made it to the championship game."
Baxter, who turned 21 on Dec. 31, started playing rugby at age 14 in Grade 9, her first year at Bernice MacNaughton High School in Moncton. "Before that, I wasn't interested in contact sports. I was a competitive figure skater from Grade 4 until I graduated from high school."
As for how she ended up at Acadia, Baxter noted that her entire immediate family "are Mount Allison grads. I toured Mount A in Grade 11, but I felt too comfortable there. I also knew I wanted to play varsity rugby, and Mount A didn't have a team."
In the meantime, she "visited Acadia, and fell in love with it at first sight. I never even applied anywhere else." It helped that Acadia had a top-level women's rugby program that was on the rise, and "I also have family connections here (Eatons, and Bill and Margaret Parker)."
She has always played in the forward line, but at the same time, has been very versatile. "Since my first year, I've played every position in the forward line, one through eight. In my third year, I played all eight forward positions in the same season. I'm known as a really versatile player."
Baxter's rugby experience at Acadia couldn't have been a whole lot better. "The team has done incredibly well in my time here. We've played in the AUS final all four years, won a conference championship, and played at nationals three times."
Baxter, who has gotten to play at nationals twice, has lost some time to injury. "My third year, I played all season with a broken foot. The doctor said I couldn't hurt it any more by playing."
Last fall, "I was out six weeks with a knee injury, but thanks to the amazing physio staff here, I was able to make it back for the playoffs and nationals."
Now that she is committed to returning this fall, she is "hoping we can win another AUS championship, especially where we're hosting nationals." She is also hoping Acadia "can do better at nationals." In their previous three appearances, "we've had trouble winning that first game."
This fall is shaping up to possibly be Acadia's year. "We've had some incredible recruits visit this off-season. They seem very talented, with long lists of rugby accomplishments. Hopefully some of them will end up choosing Acadia."
The 2018 recruits will join a talented core of returning players, most notably all-Canadians (and AUS all-stars) Danielle Wisen, Harley Tucker and Lauren Melanson and AUS all-star Natasha Johnson.
Baxter noted, "we've has a great atmosphere in our off-season training. We're returning most of our roster. There were only four of us in our fourth year last season, and I'm already committed to return."
As well, there are "two or three women who played two or three years ago (and who have a year of eligibility remaining) who are planning to come back, and that number may still go up. I'm expecting there will be great competition for spots on the roster."
Baxter is "definitely here for the full first semester" this fall. "I'm only short three credits to graduate, but currently my plan is to be here for a full fifth year."
After graduation, "my plan is to move on to law school. I wrote my LSAT (exam) last fall. I'm going to tour some schools this spring, and apply for next fall. U. of T. (the University of Toronto) is my dream,
but there are lots of schools with great law schools, including York, Queen's, Western and Ottawa - and I'll probably apply to Dalhousie as well."
Her specific interest is "corporate law. I'm really interested in tax law, but I won't really know until I get where I'm going where I'll end up specializing."
Mainly because rugby is a seasonal sport ending in November, Baxter has had plenty of opportunity during her time at Acadia to become involved in extracurricular and community activities. Needless to say, she has taken full advantage, and has always had a full and rewarding schedule.
"I've never had much trouble filling my time," she says. She is co-president of the Acadia Players Association, along with volleyball Axewoman Sarah Ross and hockey Axeman Liam Maskant. "It's been great getting to know then both and working with them."
In their roles with the APA, Baxter and Maaskant got to take part in the Acadia Sports Hall of Fame induction last fall. "It was an incredible experience," she says. "All the inductees were amazing. You don't realize we have so many great people."
She has also had the opportunity to do some writing. "The School of Business asked me to write some stories for their website. Eric (Cederberg) saw them, liked what he saw and had me write stories for (Acadia Athletics). When I was in elementary school, I wanted to be a writer, but I didn't keep up with it. It's nice to interview people, and to hear their stories from a different perspective."
Baxter is also one of the project managers for Enactus Acadia, part of "a global organization based on using social entrepreneurship to solve community problems and fill community needs. It's been a lot of fun." She also competed with Enactus, "and made it to nationals. I'm excited at that."
She also ran an initiative called Project Regenerate, through which elementary and middle school students aged 7-12 are taught about entrepreneurship and how to use waste (specifically, recycled crayons) as a resource." Project Regenerate has also partnered with the Annapolis Valley Regional School Board and Evangeline Middle School on workshops.
As Vice-President Marketing for the Acadia Business Society, she was involved in hosting a conference with other Atlantic universities attending. She has also been kept busy "volunteering with various other groups."
Baxter has "no regrets at all" with her choice to attend Acadia. "This has been the perfect school for me for my undergrad. I've loved it here, and have never once second-guessed my decision."