New captain Kilbreath excited to return from injury, ready to take on a leadership role for Griffins

Noelle Kilbreath is excited to get back in the lineup for the Griffins, set to play her first game since Jan. 21 when MacEwan opens the 2023-24 Canada West season vs. MRU on Friday (Robert Antoniuk photo).
Noelle Kilbreath is excited to get back in the lineup for the Griffins, set to play her first game since Jan. 21 when MacEwan opens the 2023-24 Canada West season vs. MRU on Friday (Robert Antoniuk photo).

Jefferson Hagen
MacEwan Athletics 

EDMONTON – Noelle Kilbreath's journey back to full health after missing the last six games of the 2022-23 season included plenty of time away from the court, doing some soul searching.

Her arduous journey back from a concussion has taught her not only about herself but how much she loves the game.

The new captain of the Griffins women's basketball team will lead them onto the floor this weekend for their Canada West home opener vs. Mount Royal University on Friday (6 p.m.) and Saturday (2 p.m., both David Atkinson Gym, Canada West TV).

Tickets for Saturday's game are free as part of MacEwan's Open House celebrations, but you can purchase tickets for Friday HERE.

"I feel so thankful to be able to play because I know how quickly injury can take it away from an athlete," said Kilbreath. "I suffered from a bunch of concussions last year, which just shifted my whole perspective on sport in general. I'm just so thankful and so excited. 

"I took some time off in the summer just to make sure I was ready to heal and ready to come back and wanting to play. I'm just so thankful for every moment I get to play on the court."

Part of her recovery process was seeking out the advice of her uncle, former Major League Baseball pitcher Chris Reitsma, who knows a thing or two about injuries.

"He retired because of an arm injury, which is really common for pitchers in MLB," said Kilbreath. "So, we talked just about the love for the sport and not taking anything for granted. We had a couple discussions about just the mental part of dealing with anxiety of being back on the court and then just the leadership stuff – what things need to fall into place for us to compete and my role as a leader. He's a really, really great resource for me."

With veteran 2022-23 leaders Shannon Majeau and Mackenzie Farmer graduated from the program, the torch has been passed to Kilbreath, who will lead a new group this season alongside fifth-year Hayley Lalor – who is still recovering from an injury and will be in a coaching role from the bench.

"I think that she's really done a great job learning from those who've come before her," said Griffins head coach Katherine Adams of Kilbreath. "She certainly has leadership qualities and I think she's ready and excited to take on that next role.

After suffering a concussion on Jan. 21 of last season against Alberta, Kilbreath missed the final six games of the 2022-23 season. It was a huge loss for the Griffins as she's one of few players on the roster capable of topping 20 points every night she's out there.

"It's been a long journey for her back to this point to be playing and be comfortable and confident," said Adams. "We're really excited to have her back in that role, stepping into a new role both on court and as a leader."

The Griffins are a different team in 2023-24, there's no doubt. Minutes have opened up in the post Majeau and Farmer era, with top rookies from last season Toni Gordon and Toki Tsuzuki primed to take another step forward. Six newcomers back up a group that also includes several other young players stepping into more prominent roles.

Noelle Kilbreath is heading into her fourth season with the Griffins in 2023-24 (Robert Antoniuk photo).

"When you look at our roster, there's been significant change from the last couple years," said Adams. "We were fortunate last year we had some young players with opportunities to gain experience with valuable minutes. We look to them to step in and continue to contribute in the ways we saw from them towards the end of the season last year. 

"It's a great opportunity for some new faces to step into some new roles. I think the exciting thing for our program is every single player is stepping into a new role this year, so there's a lot of learning and a lot of growth, but a lot of potential to make some strides moving forward."

Due to injuries, the Griffins had a really short bench for the last few games of the 2022-23 season – fielding a lineup of only seven healthy players on their final weekend vs. Regina. This year, they have a larger roster to help mitigate injuries that arise with multiple players who can fill roles.

"I think one of our strengths is our versatility, so some girls play more than others do, but we have a way deeper bench than we've had at any point since I've been here," said Kilbreath. "Just a lot of athleticism, and a lot of girls who can work into the lineup, so that hopefully contributes to a more competitive practice environment, which makes us better in the long run, as well as just being able to play that high-paced game. 

"It's really hard to play a ton of minutes at that high pace. So having a lot of girls who can step up and take some minutes in relief, is a really important piece and I think one of our strengths as a team."