Transfer Burnell embraces love of basketball again with Griffins after losing last season to injury

Sarah Burnell has started all of the Griffins' games this season after transferring to MacEwan from St. Mary's University in Calgary (Railene Hooper photo).
Sarah Burnell has started all of the Griffins' games this season after transferring to MacEwan from St. Mary's University in Calgary (Railene Hooper photo).

Jason Hills 
For MacEwan Athletics 
EDMONTON – You can't help but notice Sarah Burnell when she's on the court for the MacEwan Griffins this season. 

When she steps on the floor, she brings all kinds of energy and grit, and she's doing it with a big smile on her face, because she's back playing the game she loves. 

Burnell spent her first two seasons with the St. Mary's Huskies, and after she fractured her tibia in her first season, she spent all last season recovering. 

"I felt like I was having shin splints, and I had never had them before, so I was just trying to tough it out. I just thought it was muscle soreness, but the pain kept me up through the nights," said Burnell. 

"I finally went to the doctor, and they found that I had a broken bone in my shin." 

Now, she's in her first season with MacEwan and playing the game at the level she always felt she could reach. 

With her injury behind her, she's taken on a big role with the Griffins this season. She's started all 12 games and has averaged 4.9 points and 4.2 rebounds in just over 18 minutes per game. 

This past weekend against Brandon, Burnell recorded a career-high 12 points and added six rebounds in a Griffins 68-63 win. 

The Griffins will look to build off their weekend split with Brandon when they host the Lethbridge Pronghorns on Friday (8 p.m.) and Saturday (5 p.m., both David Atkinson Gym, Canada West TV).


The chance to move closer to home and play a bigger role within a program like MacEwan has been a win-win for the product of Airdrie. 

"It took some time to change my mindset and go from being a student to being a student-athlete and preparing for all the challenges of being a student-athlete, but it's kind of like riding a bike," said Burnell. 

"You need to shake off the rust a little bit, but I wanted to make sure I had the mindset that this program wants me here, and I want to compete hard and do everything I can to help this program move forward. 

"I've been more of a support player my whole career, but now with MacEwan, I feel like I'm here with a purpose and gaining more and more confidence to be a player they can count on and off the court." 

Burnell moved around quite a bit in her childhood because her father was an RCMP officer. She spent the bulk of her childhood living in Rocky Mountain House. Her family eventually moved to Airdrie, and she graduated from Bowness high school in Calgary, but it was back to her rural roots where she learned to play the game and developed her blue-collar, hard-nosed attitude. 

"Playing against so many farm kids you had to be physical, and I love the physicality of the game and the unpredictability," said Burnell. 

"I feel like I can be a bully in the paint when I need to be, and when I go into the paint players better be ready, because I go there with the intent to be physical, and I love to play with high energy." 

While Burnell has shown grit and tenacity on the court for the Griffins this season, she had to use that same grit and determination coming back from her injury. 

It was a long road to recovery, and not only did she have to build herself back up physically, but mentally as well. 

Sarah Burnell looks for an open teammate to pass to against Brandon last weekend (Railene Hooper photo).

Her mental toughness was certainly tested at times through her recovery, but when it was tested, she often thought back to when her family would go on long hikes and camping trips in the mountains around Nordegg when she was young. 

Burnell is an outdoors enthusiast and when she graduates from MacEwan she wants to work as a field geologist, or in renewable energy. 

"My parents loved to go hiking, and we'd be out in the mountains with no cell service, and we'd be roughing it, and they'd always tell me that there was an ice cream shop at the top of the mountain to encourage me to keep pushing, but there was never any ice cream," laughed Burnell. 

"They really built up my mental toughness in those situations and encouraged me to keep going." 

Burnell admitted that it was tough sitting out the entire season and not playing, but it just motivated her more to get back on the court, and she knew she wanted an opportunity to start fresh somewhere else. 

"My athletic identity became my whole identity and breaking up with the sport last year was painful, but now I'm more like Sarah, who just plays basketball. I'm seeing my game grow even more now, which is nice," said Burnell. 

She's also become a vocal leader that all her teammates can learn from. 

"Our roster is so young, and I made it a goal of mine to show the younger players how to show up and compete, even when it's hard. I've focused on being consistent and using my strengths that allow me to be in that starting role," said Burnell. 

"Talking to Katherine (Adams) during my tour at MacEwan, she told me there are shoes that need to be filled on the team. I had the foresight of how much I would need to give to the team and the program, and I prepared myself to show up every day and give it my all."