By John DeCoste '77
The Acadia basketball Axewomen are a different-looking team from last season, but head coach Len Harvey says, "it's time we started giving credit to the girls that are here now, rather than the ones we've lost since last season."
The Axewomen are now more than halfway through their 2018-2019 regular season, and as of Jan. 30, had a more than a respectable 11-3 record, good for a close second in the conference standings.
A Cape Breton native, Harvey is now in year four as Axewomen head coach since leaving a head coaching job at Mount Royal University in Calgary to return to his native Nova Scotia and his alma mater, Acadia.
"It was a bit of a leap of faith, coming here," he acknowledged, but on the other hand, "it was less of a leap of faith and more of a call to service."
Harvey is an Acadia alumnus, Class of 2003. "Acadia has given me a lot. It's important for me to be able to give back." He was not a varsity athlete during his student years, "but I loved it here."
Returning to Acadia, he says, "one of the differences I saw was that during my time as a student, there was a big student fan contingent" which isn't as much the case these days – though Harvey and his Axewomen are trying their best to bring it back.
"Back then, going to varsity games was part of the social scene, part of student life, part of what you did on a Friday or Saturday night. I'd like to see that both come back and expand. We're providing entertainment here, at a high level. It can be a big part of the student experience."
Asked if his return to Acadia has been what he expected, Harvey says, "yes and no. Our progression curve as a program has probably been a little quicker than I expected."
People in Wolfville, and in rural Nova Scotia in general, "tend to value hard work and commitment. People here in the Valley tend to notice things like that, and get behind them."
Personally, "it's been everything I expected. My kids are six and three. The oldest just started school back in September. It's a great place to live, and for kids to grow up."
Harvey and his family live in New Minas, in the Golfview subdivision. "There's a lot of young families, a good mix." He added, "it maybe took going away to Calgary to realize the level of services we have here."
The goal, he says, "is to get back to nationals, and to build a program that can win at that level. We want to be one of those schools that gets to nationals, year after year. We also have aspirations to not just be the 'token AUS school' at nationals.
He points out, "what happened last year was great. We had some 'all-time' players'. At the same time, "this year's team has its own expectations. Our young returning players have all matured, and we've added people like Jayda Veinot, a special talent," who transferred in from Saint Mary's.
Another transfer, Lanae Adams, "has been a real leader, and has added great things to our team."
Overall, "we have wonderful players, and wonderful people, who are a lot more than their (individual) stats. Ellen Hatt is a perfect example."
Hatt graduated last spring, but agreed to return for a fourth season with the Axewomen in 2018-2019. A veteran player, she has added many intangibles as well as great leadership. "She's a testament to what a person can achieve with hard work when they're in the right situation for them."
Harvey might tend to downplay his own contribution to the program, but over and above being a good coach, he has provided stability to the Axewomen and filled the void left by the retirement of his predecessor, Bev Greenlaw.
He also has a great coaching staff, led by assistant coaches Danny DePalma, Jalynn Skeir and John Tramble. "I can't say enough about my assistant coaches, and also how much a person like (strength and conditioning coach) Elliott Richardson has meant to our program."
Last season represented "a changing of the guard for our conference. A lot of 'all-time' players finished their careers. Last year's (women's basketball) grad class was an awesome group. Now is the time for the next group to find themselves and make their mark."
No one has done that more than McDonald, the Port Williams native who has built on a breakout 2017-2018 season to become one of the impact players in the AUBC.
McDonald has averaged 28.2 points per game since Christmas (24.7 for the season), and recently scored an Acadia career-high 36 points in an 89-75 win over Memorial.
"It started last year," Harvey said of McDonald, "but this year, she's doing all she's doing while also getting the toughest match-ups on defense."
Asked what has impressed him most about this year's Axewomen, Harvey replied, "our talent as a team is something that jumps off the page, and doesn't get near the credit it deserves. Because our players are so talented, people tend to question their resilience, but this group is both talented and resilient, and is also going through a fairly steep learning curve because they've taken on new roles."
For his own part, as a coach, Harvey's goal is "to try and get better every day. I feel I'm still wrong more than I'm right, but I'm trying to learn something new every day. I lead by putting my players first and serving them. If they aren't ready to play, it's on me."
He acknowledges, "this is still a dream job for me. If you're a fan of what you're doing, how can you not love coming to work each day? I love the people I work with, and we have the best support system here that I've ever seen. It starts with Kevin (Dickie). I've never had a reasonable request refused."
With the Axewomen firmly in the hunt for the conference title, along with Cape Breton, UPEI and UNB, "it's going to be a great second half. There isn't much to choose between the top four teams. It will depend on who gets hot."