The Maritime Women’s Basketball Association (MWBA) is set to tip off in April 2022. With national team and professional players expected to join MWBA teams, it could soon become one of Canada’s top women’s basketball leagues.
The league has drawn interest from Atlantic University Sport (AUS) and Atlantic Collegiate Athletic Association (ACAA) players too. Potentially eligible players include members of the Dalhousie University Tigers women’s basketball team. Along with other AUS stars, they could soon play alongside some of the world’s best.
The Tigers’ Morgan Mudge is thrilled at the prospect of taking part, although she isn’t sure of her plans yet. The Edmonton native would consider hanging around Halifax in the off-season for this opportunity.
“Any chance I have to play basketball and to grow the game a bit more, I definitely want to be a part of it,” she said. “Playing against older players is a really good learning opportunity. Sometimes, they understand the game a little bit more than you do. It’s a great way to improve, especially in terms of the thinking side and more than just the physical side.”
Dal teammate Chloe Wilson said university players could have a lot to gain from playing in the league. Namely, players would be challenged by some older and stronger competition.
“A big part [of playing in the off-season] would be maintaining that gamelike play. The league would help keep us ready for the next AUS season,” Wilson said. “Getting that experience playing against older and pro players would definitely help.”
How the MWBA will work
The MWBA has six teams slated to take part in the league’s inaugural season. These include two Halifax teams (the Sirens and Thunder), Windsor Edge, Fredericton Freeze, Saint John’s Port City Fog and Moncton’s 506 Elite. It’s possible other teams could join later.
The season will last from April until roughly late June. With three teams each in New Brunswick and Nova Scotia, the schedule only requires two or fewer trips to the opposite province per season. This will keep costs down, and accommodate players’ lifestyles and other commitments.
Regular season games will be mostly on weekends, while teams closer together will play some weeknight games. For playoffs, the plan is to host a championship weekend at a single location.
Tasia McKenna, commissioner of the MWBA, said the league has already garnered plenty of interest from AUS and ACAA players. It’s an opportunity she wishes existed when she finished university.
“These players are looking for more competition in between their seasons. For those graduated, some of them aren’t ready to stop playing basketball. There weren’t many options for me when I graduated unless I wanted to head over to Europe,” McKenna said, who mentioned that several professional and national players, plus university all-stars, have already registered. “There’s potential for very high-calibre games each and every night. It’s unbelievable and something I’m quite proud of.”
Early in the COVID-19 pandemic, Brad Janes, Basketball New Brunswick’s former president and one of the league’s founders, spoke with Canadian national women’s basketball team coach Lisa Thomaidis and other Canadian basketball personalities about possibly creating a pro women’s league in Canada. He pitched the idea of having it in the Maritimes because of shorter distances to travel and the potential for rivalries between teams, which could in turn spark fan interest.
For now, the MWBA is fully amateur instead of pro. But it’s created a ton of excitement because of the talent it’s expected to attract. This makes for an excellent opportunity for Canadian university basketball players, Dal coach Anna Stammberger said.
“Players will be able to play two and a half months in the spring after their U Sports season,” Stammberger said. “These players are young. They need to play more games and practice with different players under different coaches. Those are all ways they’re going to learn more and get more playing experience. By taking on different roles and concepts with different teams, you’re going to broaden your horizons as a player.”
Growing the women’s game, especially in the Maritimes
Stammberger said the league would fit well into a university player’s schedule. U Sports season finishes by mid-March, so players would have at least a month of rest before the MWBA starts in April. Players then have all of July and August to train and rest before school seasons resume in September.
“Anybody interested in competing the next season at any level, whether it’s in university or elsewhere, are always looking for good training or competition situations,” Stammberger said. “Four to five months [in an off-season] is a long time to maintain your edge and game without competitive situations. To have a couple of months in there with some sort of organized competitive structure, everyone will jump at that.”
Wilson said the league’s schedule’s potential timing would be convenient, given her regular training schedule.
“When our season ends in mid-March, we have a few weeks off then we get right back into training anyway. I don’t think it would affect our rest because we still have lots of time through the summer,” she said.
With the excitement following the league’s announcement, it’s the long-term influence of the league that has players and league members pumped. In women’s sport, few leagues like this have existed before in Canada, let alone in the Maritimes. In witnessing basketball’s growth in popularity in the Maritimes, as seen by the men’s National Basketball League of Canada (NBL), McKenna said the MWBA has a great chance to thrive.
“Not only will we see women as the athletes on the court, but in the coaching seats, officiating or doing play-by-play,” she said. “I’m really optimistic about the positive impact this can have. A lot of youth here in Nova Scotia watch the Halifax Hurricanes [from the NBL] and AUS games. The desire to watch women’s basketball is there, and we want to create a sense of community and have those fan interactions with athletes.”
Mudge said reaching this fanbase would be huge for women’s basketball, even beyond the Maritimes.
“It will be a really good opportunity to not only bring attention to Maritime basketball, but to women’s basketball,” she said. “In a year’s time, I’d love to learn more about it and potentially be a part of the league.”