To have a championship team, it takes great coaches, veteran leadership, buy-in from younger players, commitment to the program and a little bit of luck. Anyone who has ever been a student-athlete at the university level will tell you; championships are hard to come by. Student-athletes can spend four or five years at school and never play in a championship game. During the 2011-12 academic year, however, Acadia was fortunate to have three championship teams; in football, men’s basketball, and women’s basketball.
The 2021-22 academic year is the 10th anniversary of Acadia’s banner 2011-12 athletics year, so let’s take a moment to look at those three teams, what made them so special, and what it took to bring each banner back to Wolfville.
2011 Acadia football
The 2011 Acadia football team was deep and littered with talent. On offence, fourth-year quarterback Kyle Graves (’17) had a veteran offensive line protecting him, two AUS all-stars to throw to in Tay Renaud (’13) and Mike Squires (’12, ’17), and an AUS all-star running back to hand the ball off to in Zach Skibbins. What did the offence do with all that firepower? Put points on the board; lots of points.
Acadia averaged 32 points per game, which included 175.5 rushing yards per game and 247.8 passing yards per game. The Acadia defence was solid and it started with the front seven. Up front featured two AUS all-star defensive ends in John Wilson and Jake Thomas (’12), and behind them a veteran linebacking core led by Ed McNally (’12) and Tom Labenski (’11).
What made the team so special was, with so much talent at the skill positions and only one ball, there was no selfishness. Professional football was on the horizon for many of the starters, but everyone put the team before individual success. The goal was always to win. Period. Everyone practiced hard, athletes did not take plays off when their number wasn’t called, and no one was above being coached.
During the 2011 regular season, Acadia went 7-1 and in the AUS finals, beat rivals Saint Mary’s 39-20 in front of 2,835 fans at home on Raymond Field to capture their first AUS championship in four years, ending Saint Mary’s four-year AUS championship run.
The next semester saw even more history being made when the 2011-12 women’s and men’s basketball teams brought AUS championship banners to Wolfville.
2011-12 Acadia Women’s Basketball
The 2011-12 Acadia Axewomen basketball team was a special group for two reasons: their play on the court, and their impact off of it. Going into the season, the Axewomen were experienced, led by eventual CIS second team all-Canadian Emma Duinker (’12), a core group of experienced players who were going into their third season playing together, and 2011-12 AUS coach of the year Bev Greenlaw, who ensured the team both bought in and were all in.
The Axewomen, after starting the season 0-1, went on a 13- 0 run and finished the season 17-3, number one in the conference and number seven in the country. The Axewomen were unbeatable, going a perfect 10-0 when welcoming opponents to War Memorial Gymnasium. What the numbers don’t tell you is the unique and special bond the local community and fans had with this group and their coaching staff.
For the Wolfville and greater community, this team was theirs. Ten of the 15 players were from Nova Scotia, through the Junior Axewomen basketball camps; assistant coaches Dave Harris and Fred Cumby were staples in the Annapolis Valley basketball circuit; and the team had two co-captains in Emma Duinker and Jasmine Parent (’12), who were raised less than a 20-minute drive from campus. This sense of local pride was evident at every home game when you would see parents come with their young kids in junior Axewomen jerseys to watch these talented women put on a show.
The 2011-12 AUS playoffs was held in Antigonish, where the Axewomen would beat StFX on their own home floor then, in the AUS championship game, defeat Cape Breton 82-72 to capture their first AUS championship in 60 years.
2011-12 Acadia Men’s Basketball
Not to be outdone by their colleagues, the Acadia Axemen basketball team went on a run of its own to bring a second basketball banner to War Memorial Gymnasium.
Unique to the other two champions, the 2011-12 Acadia men’s basketball players were young. On the team were a third-year duo of Anthony Sears (’15) and future Team Canada member Owen Klassen (’14), who despite having had two years’ experience playing together, lost in the AUS championship the previous year and were looking for some help to get over the hump. Reinforcements came from two places.
First, after sitting out a year of eligibility, Anthony Ashe (’14, ’17) a transfer from Carleton University, and Jonathan Tull (’14), a transfer from Central Connecticut State, were both finally ready to suit up for the Axemen. They joined a strong recruiting class that included Thomas Johnson, Rhys Larry (’16), Bradley States, Shaq Smith (’16), Tyler Scott (’15), and point guard Sean Stoqua (’16), who joined the team in December after winning a championship with the Acadia football team.
This recruiting class could have been starters at many other schools around the country, however, all came to Acadia knowing they would have to compete for playing time and, in return, have the opportunity to vie for a championship.
The Axemen started the regular season 2-3, which included a 90-89 OT loss to their eventual AUS championship opponents StFX. After the New Year’s break, the team started to find its form and confidence, going 12-3 and finishing the season 14-6. Coaches say, “you play the way you practice,” and what made this team unique was how the group practiced and pushed each other. Having a second unit that could push the starters every practice gave the team and coaching staff reassurance that their roster was deep and had contributors in all positions who, if called upon, could come in and allow the team to not miss a beat.
In the 2011-12 AUS playoffs, the Axemen would first beat Saint Mary’s then, in the AUS championship game, after going 0-2 in the regular season, finally getting their revenge, topping StFX 82-71 to capture their AUS-leading 17th men’s basketball championship.
These three banners hold a special place in the history of Acadia Athletics. It is not only a symbol for all the players, coaches and staff involved with these three teams of their hard work, dedication, and sacrifice, but a reminder that they were all part of one special year, and a unique accomplishment that has not happened in the 183-year history of Acadia University.
Story by Enoka Bainomugisha (’14)