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Ambrose Lions ready to Roar into ACAC

by ACAC Sports Writer Curtis J. Phillips

01/24/2014...Calgary, Alberta - Revolving names and evolving games.

Since its inception more than 90 years ago, Ambrose University College has had 13 name changes and during this time frame has also added various sports for its student/athletes.

Two years ago the Lions, the sports teams name for this Christian liberal arts school based in Calgary, joined the Alberta Colleges Athletic Conference  (ACAC) to participate in the sport of futsal.

In its and the ACAC’s inaugural year of futsal action, the Lions women’s team made it to the bronze medal game, falling to the Keyano College Huskies 2-1.

With Lions men’s and women’s basketball and volleyball teams competing in the Alberta Colleges Athletic League (ACAL), the Lions look to follow current and former ACAL participants, like the Olds Broncos and St. Mary’s Lightning, in shifting some, if not all, of their sports to the ACAC.

“Our men’s and women’s volleyball teams will be playing in the ACAC next year (2014-2015) and we have an application in for basketball and if accepted, we would start play in 2015-2016,” said Lions Director of Athletics and Campus Recreation, Ryan Willison, 36. (photo left)

Currently the Lions are part of a ACAL which include the Canadian University College Aurora , Lacombe;  Millar College of the Bible Edge, Pambrun, Saskatchewan;  Prairie Bible Institute Pilots, Three Hills and St. Mary’s  University College Lightning out of Calgary.

Four of the five schools, accept for the Lightning who do not have a volleyball program, joined the Prairie Athletic Conference in Saskatchewan for the sport of men’s and women’s volleyball for the 2013-2014 season. They join the Bethany Eagles, Great Plains Sundogs, Kelsey Amaruks and Palliser Panthers.

Lions futsal, aside from the ACAC schedule, also has interlocking games with the Edge and Eagles.

In men’s and women’s basketball the Lions, with the St. Mary’s Lightning now in the ACAC, play against the Aurora, Edge, Pilots and Olds Broncos who are doing double duty with games in the ACAL and ACAC.


This is perhaps why the Lions, in year No. 7 with the nickname, want to make the move. They were previously known as the United.

“In some ways we saw the writing on the wall for the ACAL as we saw other teams leaving,” said Willison, who is in year No. 10 at Ambrose. “More importantly it was part of our strategic plan which is to take our teams to the next level. It is also great in terms of recruitment and profile plus our school is growing in enrollment. “

Willison believes that the Lions will be able to compete at the ACAC level in both volleyball and then basketball, once their application is approved.

“We will have to be realistic and have realistic expectations in both sports when we start out but being in Calgary we are positioned very well to build a solid program. Our university is also offering main stream programs and I think the student/athlete will be interested in being involved with teams that are starting at the ground floor and working their way up.

“Playing at a higher level forces you to become better and to also become better at recruting. After a few years of paying our dues, I can see us making the playoffs “

The ACAC has been in constant change since its creation in 1964 as the Western Inter College Conference. Last year the Mount Royal University Cougars left for the Canadian Interuniversity Sports with Grant MacEwan University Griffins following in part for the 2014-2015 season.

With the Griffins leaving, Willison is excited about filling their shoes and joining the ACAC ranks.

“Moving to the ACAC puts us in the best college league (17 schools) in Canada and allows us to recruit higher quality student/athlete to participate in our programs.”

Willison also has support from the school itself both financially and fan wise.

“Fortunately our senior administration is committed in seeing our programs moving to the ACAC and they have included our travel budget to be five or six fold to what it currently is. We feel from budget perspective we are in ballpark.

“The student body is excited to as we have seen the same schools over- and- over for the last decade. There will be an education process for our student body though. We will have to educate that wins do not grow on trees and we are going to have to work for them.

“Our student body really supports us. Typically we draw up or over 200 for volleyball games and our athletes really feed off of that.”

Of the pressure to win at this level?

“In sports there is always pressure to win, you see in professional sports that people at the  top loose their jobs but our senior administration know that it will be a process in that the first two or three years we may not make the playoffs but we are looking at a five-year plan in that after five years we do make the playoffs and perhaps push some of those upper echelon schools.”

Asked for one final comment Willison said.

“This is a new chapter in Ambrose’s history of athletics. The Ambrose Lions are here to stay.”

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