This spring, a new league entered the Canadian basketball landscape. The Maritime Women’s Basketball Association (MWBA) launched with six teams in two maritime provinces. The goal of the fledgling league is to offer a competitive place for female basketball players to play in the U SPORTS off-season or after graduation. Several Tigers alumnae have seized this opportunity to return to the court and are connected to five of the six teams.
Cailin Crosby (2007-10) and Leah Martin (2005-10) are members of the Halifax Hornets roster, who are currently sitting in second place in the standings.
“Getting to play with Leah again has been a total bonus,” says Crosby. “We both played overseas following our time at Dal, Leah in Slovakia, me in Germany, and after returning to Nova Scotia we rowed together for a season with the ‘Row to the Podium’ program based out of Dartmouth. So, we are no strangers to each other’s work ethic, dedication, and passion for sport; and all the more reason why I feel lucky to share just one more high-level athletic experience with her!”
Several other players in the league have professional basketball experience, all of it away from overseas. Returning to the court here in Canada, they have brought their experiences with them which has led to a high-quality product on the court.
“The quality of play in this league is phenomenal,” says Crosby. “It’s fast, physical, and highly-skilled. The training/playing environment reminds me of my time in Europe, primarily in the make-up of the teams. We’re not all students representing our school, we’re various ages, attended different universities, some of us have young children, full-time jobs, and other responsibilities outside of basketball, yet we come together because of our shared passion for playing the sport and that’s a really unique and incredible thing to be a part of.”
Tigers alumnae are not just on the court but on the bench too. Although she didn’t don the black and gold as much as she had hoped due to injury this past season, Maia Timmons (2021-22) brought a wealth of experience to a young Tigers team this past year. She is now an assistant coach with the Windsor Edge.
“Coaching for the Windsor Edge has been a very unique experience,” says Timmons. “The players in this league have so much talent, leadership, and experience and are often managing the game and making adjustments amongst themselves on the floor.”
“Every team seems to be composed of some of the best players I either grew up watching in the AUS, or players I grew up playing with or against. It's really special to see all of these women now playing together in the same league.”
One of those players is Chelsea Slawter Wright (2017-19) who is on the Windsor roster.
“The quality of play in the MWBA I'd say is at par with the AUS, it is fast-paced and definitely just as physical. Most of the league's players are former AUS and U SPORTS athletes so they bring that same intensity to every game. It is so cool to see the combination of experience and skill on every team with such a wide age range of players on every team.”
Janice King (1994-95, 1997-01) is an owner and a coach of Crosby and Martin’s Hornets.
“As a coach I have been blown away with the tempo and intensity of the product that the league is producing,” says King. “Bringing a team into form in such a short window is no easy feat and I’d be lying if I told you that we were at our full potential at this moment.”
Starting a new women’s league is never easy. Doing it during a global pandemic adds another level of difficulty. However, the tides are turning when it comes to women’s sports. The MWBA has signed several big partnerships which, as King notes, has helped.
“As an owner it has been challenging over the last two years, not only building something new from the ground up, but with the uncertainty of COVID restrictions looming all around. Thankfully our cause has been well received by most of the potential sponsors we approached. People have wanted to be involved and that in itself has been very promising, that many companies understand the importance of lifting women and girls up.”
The impact of the league on women’s sport is not only happening on the court, but off it as well. The gyms have been packed at most of the games the league has held so far. Many of the fans are young, female basketball players.
“I have already seen an impact in so many young girls just by looking at their faces and listening to them talk about the games and players,” adds King. “I see the impact of young women and girls witnessing the value our community has placed on a women’s basketball league! 300-500 people in the seats at the games, thousands of views online, the media coverage, the professionalism of the league, the sponsors! It may not seem like much, but it carries so much weight for them and it’s important for them to see it. It tells them their dreams matter too. I see this league challenging them to think bigger, take chances and break down barriers.”
It’s not just future Tigers that are being impacted by the league, but current ones too. Second-year forward Maddie Maillet is a member of the Moncton Mystics team.
“Playing with this group of experienced, inspiring female basketball players has been great,” she says. “It’s really cool to compete with, and against players that I’ve looked up to for a long time. I get to learn something new every game in a setting where the physicality, basketball IQ, and compete level is high.”
Her new coach at Dal, Tanya McKay is excited to see the impact of playing against high quality talent will be in Maillet’s development.
“What a great opportunity to play against some of the best current and former players in the AUS through May and June. This experience gives Maddie a head start in her off-season training for September as she prepares for the Tigers season.”
Hornets coach King agrees.
“I think the MWBA can only help level up the caliber of play in the AUS and U SPORTS. There is so much for the younger players to learn from the more seasoned veterans. Having a chance to practice with and play against the best can only help them develop as players. Now that our first season has started and is generating so much positive attention, I think there may be a lot of current and former players who decided not to play this season that might decide to try out next year.”
Looking at the larger picture, McKay sees the MWBA as a great launching point for women’s basketball in Canada.
“The MWBA could be the foundation for a league that potentially could stretch across the country for female basketball players,” adds McKay.
“The dream for many female players in U SPORTS is to play at a professional level once they graduate from their university programs. Very few players go on to semi professional or professional leagues in other parts of the world due to lack of opportunities or financial implications. The MWBA becomes an opportunity for female basketball players to stay at home in Canada to experience a higher level of play and inspire future young players to dream of playing in this professional league. What an amazing journey this could be for these players.”
Although the game of basketball hasn’t changed since their days at Dalhousie, many things off the court have.
“My pre-game routine with a toddler definitely looks different,” says Crosby, who has a 22-month-old daughter at home and a partner who is a family medicine resident. “It’s taken extra hands with grandparents and other family members stepping in to make it possible for me to attend all the practices, fitness workouts, games, and weekends away.”
Returning to the court and to consistent high-intensity games has made all the juggling worth it for Slawter Wright.
“It’s so much fun getting to play again at a high level and being able to play with some women who were my opponents during my time in the AUS. I am getting to meet new athletes who've played in the AUS and U SPORTS at different times than me, and I love learning from the older players and hearing about their experience in AUS.”
Rounding out the Tigers contingent is 2014-15 AUS MVP, Courtney Thompson (2010-15) who is suiting up for the Port City Fog. The Fredericton Freeze have the 2013-14 AUS Community Service award winner, Robbi Daley (2012-15) on their team and joining Slawter Wright on the Windsor Edge is Anna von Maltzahan (2009-13).
The teams are heading into their final weekend of the short MWBA inaugural season. Playoffs kick off Friday at SMU’s Homburg Centre, where we will find out if anyone can beat the undefeated Halifax Thunder.