Jefferson Hagen, MacEwan Athletics
EDMONTON – About to cap off a post-secondary women's basketball career that's spanned seven-and-a-half years, three institutions and two conferences, Anna Mbuyi is enjoying her swan song.
The veteran forward joined the MacEwan Griffins in her fifth-year of eligibility this season to finish her basketball playing days with a year in the Canada West ranks. She previously played in the Alberta Colleges Athletic Conference for Medicine Hat (2011-12) and Lakeland College (2015-18).
"She reached out to me looking for an opportunity to play at the U SPORTS level," said Griffins head coach Katherine Adams. "Obviously going into her fifth year of eligibility, she had one last chance to make that happen.
"She came out and I certainly didn't make things easy on her to make the transition, but she followed through on everything and came in and made a difference for us. We thought this is someone to add value to our team right now in a position that we're a little bit thin, so it was a great fit for both her and us."
Mbuyi has started four games for the Griffins this season but has seen plenty of time off the bench as well in posting 3.5 points and 3.7 rebounds a game so far. She's also third on the Griffins with 1.4 steals a game.
She'll lead the Griffins (4-8) into their first action since the semester break this weekend when they host Calgary (11-3) on Friday (6 p.m.) and Saturday (5 p.m., both in David Atkinson Gym). Friday's contest will feature the Griffins' annual White Out celebration of excellence at halftime where athletes and teams are honoured for special accomplishments over the last year.
Like every athlete who transfers to the U SPORTS ranks out of the ACAC, there's an adjustment period. For Mbuyi that mostly came in the physical department.
"Coming from ACAC, I was one of the bigger girls but now I'm one of the smallest," said the 5-foot-9 Mbuyi, who plays a gritty game. "A lot of girls are bigger, stronger, faster, so that's been an adjustment. I've had to figure out crafty ways to get to the rim and to finish doesn't come as easy to me as it used to.
"But it's been good. Katherine's helped me a lot with that in showing me different ways I could contribute and be a better player."
As a result, she's been a player Adams can rely on in key moments of the game.
"She's a little bit under-sized in the position we're playing her, but she has the athleticism and is one of those players who just has a knack for finding the ball," said Adams. "She rebounds well, she's great at running lanes and getting touches defensively, and she's been really big for us in some late-game situations where she's gotten some steals and uncontested layups to just seal the deal and make the spread tough for the opponent to come back from.
"As a fifth year, her experience competing at the post-secondary level (is key). She's tough and gritty and has come in and helped add value to our practice to help our still-young roster add experience."
Mbuyi took three seasons off after that first one in Medicine Hat to work and figure out her career path. She will soon graduate with a sociology degree and minor in psychology as she aims for a job as a family social aide ("I definitely know I want to work with people and help people").
For now, she's helping the Griffins grow as a team. Her experience on and off the court is invaluable as she winds towards her final home game on Senior Night Jan. 26.
"I just like how I've grown as a person," she said of her university basketball journey. "This experience is not one that you can take for granted. It pushed me to be a worker and team leader, and taught me a lot about myself, about patience, understanding other people.
"I think over the five years I've grown a lot and I'm happy with my experience playing."
The Griffins will have their hands full with Calgary – the No. 9-ranked team in U SPORTS – whom they lost to 71-36 in preseason play back in September. MacEwan is an improved team since then, so Adams is looking forward to the challenge.
"No question we've grown for sure, if nothing else in figuring out who we are and figuring out our roles, what we're about and what we're good at and getting comfortable with it," she said.
"Calgary's a very talented team. Their record shows that. Some of their results we've seen them put up show that.
"The good thing is we know what to expect from them, we know their style of play, so hopefully it won't be a shock for us when we get on the court Friday night and compete because we've been there this year. We'll see what happens."