Matt Gamblin, the new coach of the Mount Allison women’s basketball Mounties, works with players Samantha Frenette, left, and Taylor-Rae Côté during a practice last Thursday evening. DOHERTY PHOTO
An entirely new and fresh approach is promised for the Mount Allison Mounties women's basketball program this season with a rookie coach and a couple of blue chip rookies joining 10 veterans to create what they hope will lead to a berth in the national championships.
It was nearly 20 years ago when both the men's and women's programs were dropped from the menu of sports being offered. The teams had competed with a modicum of success in the tough Atlantic Universities Athletic Association and due to financial restraints were cut along with such other programs as men's volleyball, women's field hockey and men's hockey over a period of a few years.
It was at this point the Mountie basketball alumni stepped up and, led by people like Harvey Gilmour and Wayne MacKay, found support from outside the university to support teams at the ACAA level for the following couple of years. They were assured the administration would take over following this period and this has been ongoing since then with the women playing mostly .500 ball.
The astute Al Hart served as head coach for the past 17 years, commuting from his home in Oxford each day, but chose to retire at the end of the 2012-13 season along with his two assistants.
Stepping into the breach is Matt Gamblin, bringing fresh perspectives with an advantage of becoming a coach while not far removed from his playing days, which could help relate well with his players.
A native of Parrsboro, Gamblin led his high school team to the Nova Scotia finals on a couple of occasions and was a member of the provincial team for four seasons. He played his college ball at Mount St. Vincent's and Kings College before going out with a leg injury. He holds degrees from both Dalhousie and Crandall universities.
Gamblin served as assistant for two seasons and last year led the Amherst High School Vikings as head coach to the provincial championship.
Assisting Gamblin will be April Scott who enjoyed a successful playing career as a member of the Dalhousie Tigers.
Last season the Mounties ran up a 9-win, 11-loss record, good for a playoff spot and they dropped a tough match to St. Thomas Tommies, the eventual winner and also a medal winner at the nationals.
With two teams going to the nationals this season Gamblin has his eyes set on one of these, either as ACAA champion or runner-up, and he believes this is a realistic goal for his team, which will have most of its members returning from last season along with a boost from newcomers.
Brooke Kelly, a point guard, has transferred to Mount Allison after playing for Guelph and brings a lot to the plate after having performed in a league at a higher level of competition.
While Gamblin isn't saying that Kelly will automatically be a starter in her first game here he believes she will become a key in the team's success.
Both Kelly and forward Alex Strong-Robichaud of Lakeview were recruited by Hart and the new coach says he is most grateful for the work of his predecessor.
The key loss from last season was point guard Kayla Robichaud but the return of MacKenzie Gray of Woodstock will provide height, experience and leadership. He will also have, among his 13 players, guards Maddy MacDonald of Riverview, Danielle Boorne of Horton and Chelsea Putnam and Ashley Toweel of Halifax, as well as Sara McKellar.
Working around Gray at forward will be Katie Land of Riverview, Taylor-Rae Côté from Ontario, MacKenzie McHatten of Woodstock, Sam Frenette of Fredericton and Hanna Stegan of Halifax.
Gamblin will get his first look at his team in action when they play three games in three days during a swing into Quebec Oct. 4-6 and then will have another tuneup when they travel to Oxford to play the former NSAC team. Their home opener will be a regular league matchup with Mount St. Vincent's on Nov. 3.
Other teams in the conference include UNB Saint John, St. Thomas, University of Moncton, Holland College and Crandall.
The team began practicing on Sept. 5 with 14 trying out and the coach will retain 13 for the season with 12 dressing for each game.
Gamblin, who hopes to become a fulltime coach at some point, says he is excited about the upcoming season, especially with a lineup of seasoned veterans but realizes it will require development of a good team chemistry to result in success.
And he says fans should expect to see an up-tempo style of play with the goal of pressing as much as possible to create an exciting time for both the players and the fans.