Jefferson Hagen, MacEwan Athletics
EDMONTON – The importance of experience in Canada West can't be understated.
Now in her fourth university season, Mackenzie Farmer has come a long way from the fresh-faced 17-year-old promising rookie she was when she first started for the Griffins women's basketball team in the fall of 2017.
MacEwan's leading scorer in 2019-20 will look to be an impact player in U SPORTS this season as she leads the Griffins (0-2) into their home opener weekend vs. Calgary (2-0) on Friday (6 p.m.) and Saturday (5 p.m., both David Atkinson Gym, Canada West TV presented by Co-op).
"I feel like I'm still the same player," said Farmer. "I'm trying to change a little bit because I'm more of a finesse player and I'm trying to be stronger. In COVID, I had all this time to lift, so I'm a lot stronger than I was before and I can get better takes because of it. But I'm pretty much the same player."
That's good news for the Griffins who have leaned on Farmer in recent seasons as their go-to scoring threat; she averaged 13.6 points per game in 2019-20.
Griffins head coach Katherine Adams feels with more experience, Farmer's complete game is set to blossom in 2021-22.
"For Mac, scoring has always been a focus, but the focus has been helping her realize she can contribute in so many other ways defensively," said Adams. "She is tough. She can rebound the ball and push in transition and create opportunities for her teammates. So far and even the past year, she's led us in scoring and assists. That speaks really highly to her skill-set.
"Just getting her to expand her game and be more of a complete player is something we've focused on and something she's responded well to."
The Griffins are reaping the benefits of giving Farmer lots of minutes in her rookie season as there really isn't any situation in Canada West she hasn't seen.
"One thing we say to young players is you just need experience … and you'll be seasoned to find success in all situations," said Adams. "She was fortunate that she was able to get that experience young and be challenged, pushed and find ways to grow and evolve.
"I think we haven't seen the best of her yet. She's got a lot more to show, a lot more to prove and we're really excited about what that means for us."
Mackenzie Farmer drives to the hoop during a non-conference game against UBC-Okanagan last month (Eduardo Perez photo).
The Griffins enter the season not relying solely on Farmer, though, which is the key to any success they will have. The Sherwood Park product and her strong 2017 recruiting class teammates – Shannon Majeau, Darian Mahmi, Mady Chamberlin and Hannah Gibb – are leading the way for the Griffins this season.
"I think this year we have the most depth we've had in a long time," said Farmer. "I don't think this year we need to rely solely on me or one person to score. Everyone knows what they bring to the team and they fulfill it. Everyone can score, it's not just one."
Majeau leads the Griffins with 12.5 points/game, Farmer is currently averaging 10.5 and second-year Noelle Kilbreath, ready to take a leap forward in her game, is pouring in 9.0.
"Obviously, (Mackenzie) scores the ball well, so that's something we lean on her for, but her teammates have done a great job of developing their skills as well," said Adams. "we know teams key on her, so other people have to be able to step up and carry the load as well.
"This year, as we continue to grow and develop, there are some people ready to step into those positions. Shannon's scoring the ball well for us, Noelle's had some big games for us and we've had different people have moments where they've showcased their ability to put the ball in the hoop, which certainly eases the pressure of relying on one person to get the job done."
Calgary presents a tough challenge on opening weekend for the Griffins, coming in as the No. 1-ranked team in U SPORTS.
"Calgary's always a tough team," said Adams, who played for the Dinos and worked as an assistant coach for them prior to coming to MacEwan. "They score the ball well, they really like to push and attack aggressively, and defend well. They're a very well-rounded team.
"We're fortunate this year in that we have a lot of time to really focus on us and look at what we do well, and continue to grow in areas we need to improve. This weekend, for us defensively against Calgary is going to be critical – being able to slow them down and just manage the pace of play a little bit.
"They've had some big scoring games and some kids were shooting the ball pretty well, so just knowing matchups, knowing personnel, being disciplined and sticking to our game plan will be important."