How 6 programs plan to chase third straight ACAC Championship

How 6 programs plan to chase third straight ACAC Championship

Three consecutive championship wins by any sports team is an impressive feat. But, this statistic proves even more daunting when you look at the world of college sports. The dramatic amount of turnover due to numerous factors like length of academic programs makes putting a team together with both depth and seniority rare. However, these coaches have made it look easy — as they all enter this season with a chance to compete for their third ACAC in a row.

RDC Queens Women's Cross Country, SAIT Trojans Men's Cross Country, Lakeland Rustlers Women's Volleyball, SAIT Trojans Men's Basketball, MacEwan Griffins Men's and Women's Hockey are all in the running for their third straight ACAC title — making 2018/19 the year of three-peats.

Each of these teams have standout student-athletes, a winning culture, and have managed to sustain a high level of success year after year. The only question is — how?

Focusing on more than just the wins

For the cross country team at Red Deer College, setting the bar as high as possible had always been head coach Kari Elliots goal. However, she also noted that championships cannot be the only focus for a team. After taking over the role of head coach in 2016, Elliot has yet to miss qualifying for an ACAC championship with her women's team. Initially, her thought was that 2018 was going to be a year for rebuilding — but, that quickly changed after her team pulled through in top spot at Running Room Grand Prix #1.

For the Queens, there is a balance between individual goals and team goals. Although cross country is often viewed as an individual sport, Elliot says it's the opposite. "When you have an others-focused mentality, that overflows into championships," said Elliot. "When you don't feel like running or training harder for yourself — think of the team."

Key athletes for their team include veteran runners Jill Stewart, Shaelyn Moltzahn and Teagan Shapka. However, Elliot says the newest addition to their crew, Shayla Sklaruk, is also one to watch, with her strong background as an athlete, competing in dance and gymnastics prior to making the switch to cross country.

The Queens will compete for their third consecutive championship October 27, 2018 at Lakeland College.

Letting things fall into place

Being humble isn't easy when it comes to making a splash in the world of winning. However, our ACAC teams manage to handle the title with grace, and the SAIT Trojans men's basketball team is no exception. Head coach of the Trojans, Marty Birky, noted that there are more than a few impact players on their roster. "We are very spread out with our production," said Birky. "We have been fortunate to have competitive players choose to come to play for us and they make our practices as competitive as games."

The Trojans coach was honest in revealing the fact that success at championships comes down to having a healthy team and having things go smoothly. "We will have to play at the top of our game every weekend to win and if we are fortunate enough to make playoffs, we will need to play our best and have balls bounce our way." Charlie Conner is poised to be a standout player for the Trojans.

The Trojans will compete for their third consecutive championship February 28 - March 2, 2019 at Lakeland College.

Looking to your leaders

Both MacEwan hockey teams have proven to be a force to be reckoned with. The men's and women's teams will be competing for their third ACAC championship in succession this winter and are looking to their leadership to make an impact on and off the ice. Lindsay McAlpine heads into her ninth season as head coach of the women's team and stands by her team leaders leaving the program better than when they entered.

This mentality runs strong in their room and helps breed a culture of sustained success. "We can celebrate our success, but never be complacent," said McAlpine. Integral players on the Griffins roster include ACAC Player of the Year, Carley Jewell, and fourth year goalie, Sandy Heim, who spent the summer training with the Swiss National team.

Both the Griffins hockey teams look to book their tickets to ACAC playoffs in March 2019.

Using all of your tools

Whether you're winning championships or rebuilding your team for future seasons, using each person that is wanting to come along for the ride is instrumental in creating a culture that moulds a fun atmosphere. Head coach of the SAIT Trojans cross country team, Bre MacEachern, knows just how true this is. "We like to maintain a high level of intensity," said MacEachern. "We do this by having additional runners such as alumni come out and train with us."

MacEachern says that their inclusive culture is a huge part of why they are as successful as they are. Not only that, but having a team of six strong runners that can compete at the highest level. Fourth year CCAA National Champion, Matthew Travaglini, is just one of those six. "He is a fantastic athlete and brings an intensity to the group that we never had before," said MacEachern. "Everyone looks up to him."

The Trojans will compete for their third consecutive championship October 27, 2018 at Lakeland College.

Handling the pressure is the greatest challenge of all

After being crowned CCAA National Champions in 2017, Austin Dyer, head coach of women's volleyball at Lakeland College, says his squad knows the feeling well. Dyer says the focus this year is more about enjoying each moment as a team, rather than letting the end result dictate their feelings towards the season — which is exactly what happened after settling for a bronze medal at the 2018 CCAA National Championships.

Dyer said that although they finished the 2017-18 regular season with a 29-2 record and won a second straight ACAC Championship, the women still felt as though they missed the mark on rounding out an outstanding season. "At the end of the day, it all comes down to the players," said Dyer. "I'm just super happy to have a veteran team and players that have bought in."

Three integral players on the Rustlers roster include fifth year all-conference setter, Rae Sigurdson, fifth year all-conference outside hitter Shelby Becker, and fifth year all-conference outside hitter Ahnika Kuse. An impressive feat, Kuse has earned an all-conference accolade in every year of her college career.

The Rustlers will compete for their third consecutive championship February 21-23, 2019 at Ambrose University.

Be on the lookout for these potential threepeat winners throughout the rest of the 2018-19 ACAC season!


 For more information or interviews, contact: Alyssa Davies, alyssad@acac.ab.ca, Twitter.com/ACAC_sport