HALIFAX, N.S. – On the court, the Mount Saint Vincent University (MSVU) Mystics are no strangers to success in the ACAA.
Head Coach Mark Forward, and his coaching staff has helped guide the Mystics to what would have been four-straight CCAA Women’s Basketball National Championship berth, three of which the Mystics were able to compete against the country’s best for a National Championship.
The COVID-19 global pandemic led to the 2019-20 CCAA Women’s Basketball National Championships, hosted by the VIU Mariners, to be cancelled on March 12th.
Back in 2018-19, Forward was named the CCAA Women’s Basketball Coach of the Year after the Mystics completed a perfect 18-0 regular season in the ACAA. That season, the Mystics ran into some stiff competition at Nationals, finishing eighth overall but left with valuable experience that helped propel them to another ACAA Championship in 2019-20.
With four straight National Championship berths under their belts, the Mystics’ success on the court is no secret. However, it’s another aspect of the Mystics program that has made Forward proud over his career at MSVU.
Giving back to the community.
“What I’m most proud of is the fact that we have six former players on high school coaching staffs, covering three of the largest schools in the Halifax area,” said Forward. “Since I’ve taken the Head Coaching position, I’ve made it a point of promoting the players to give back by coaching, but also because there is a lack of female coaches, period.”
During the 2019 high school season, a total of six Mystics alumni found themselves on the coaching staff at three major Halifax area high schools: Dartmouth High School, Citadel High School, and Charles P. Allen High School.
At Dartmouth, Marika Williams serves as the Head Coach of the Spartans after spending five years with the Mystics. Her coaching staff includes Madisen Jennex, who spent one season with the Mystics before transferring to complete her Bachelors of Education degree.
The Spartans are two-time provincial champions, and are currently on a 60-game winning streak.
Over at The Citadel High School, the Phoenix have a total of three Mystics alumni currently on staff, and all three spent five season with the MSVU program. Christina Brien serves as the Head Coach of the Phoenix, while Breanna Buis and Kara Hayes both serve as Assistant Coaches on Brien’s staff.
Rounding out the group of six former Mystics players turned coaches is Kelsey Clory. A five-year member of the Mystics program, Clory returned to her alma mater at Charles P. Allen High School, serving as an Assistant Coach for the Cheetahs.
Seeing his former players go onto lead their own programs and implement their own systems is another prideful moment for Forward, but even he admits that it’s still hard to see one of them come out on the wrong side of a decision, especially when they face off against one another.
“It’s fun when they play each other to watch their influence they have with their players and on the sets they run and how similar they coach with their systems,” continued Forward. “But, it’s also hard to see one of them lose.”
“Overall, I’m very proud of them because they are leading by example.”
During the 2019 season, the Spartans, Phoenix, and Cheetahs all advanced to the Provincial Championships, another highlight for both Forward and the Mystics program. After having success on the court as a player for the Mystics, the group of six coaches have made the move to the bench, but have carried on the tradition of success that they learned at MSVU to their respective high school programs.
The six players took a photo and sent it to Coach Forward.
“It was a big highlight for our Mystics program and for me, personally,” added Forward. “It will be a picture that will hang in my office.”
“They are great ambassadors, role models, and dedicated coaches.”
In addition to the six women making their mark across the high school basketball scene in the Halifax area, the Mystics welcomed a pair of former players to their own bench during the 2019-20 season.
Maria Carroll and Kate Gallant joined the Mystics coaching staff after their respective playing careers came to a close following the 2018-19 season. Carroll was part of the CCAA Female Apprentice Coach Program, giving her the opportunity to continue her development under Coach Forward, only this time from on the bench as opposed to on the court.
Adding both Carroll and Gallant to the bench this past season added another element to the mix for the Mystics, and Forward pointed out that the maturity of both Gallant and Carroll was key to their transition.
“At first, I think the players were a little confused on how the relationships would work, but both Kate and Maria are mature enough to navigate friend, former teammate, and coach that by the end of the season we were all in a good groove,” said Forward. “There’s a lot of trust built between the players when they go through the battles that they do with each other, and that is a really important aspect to the dynamics and relationships to allow them to transition into a coaching role the next season”
Whether they’re coaching with the Mystics program itself, or at other programs throughout the Halifax area, seeing former players pass on their wisdom and messages to the next generation will never get old for Forward. As a program, the Mystics make every effort to get involved with local clubs each year, and at its peak, they had 11 players working with various teams during the Spring and Summer seasons.
While things were cancelled this season due to the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s still another sense of pride for both Forward and the Mystics Women’s Basketball program as a whole.
“It means many things to see these ladies step up and become role models to young, aspiring female players,” continued Forward. “I think it speaks to the fact that while at MSVU that they enjoyed themselves during their playing time, and still enjoy it enough to want to coach.”
“I feel it means that what they learned about the game as a player provided them enough confidence to pass it on to others. Finally, I believe it speaks to their commitment to volunteerism. These are all players that want to give back, and for them, I can’t think of a better way to do so.”
Having MSVU alum coaching at various programs and levels across the Halifax area has its benefits for everyone involved.
For the coaches, they are given the opportunity to share their experiences with the next generation of players so that they can better their own games, and then in turn, potentially pass on their experiences down the road to continue the chain of knowledge.
For the Mystics Women’s Basketball program and the University as a whole, having players move onto coach at various levels aligns itself with one of the missions of Mount Saint Vincent University – the commitment to the advancement of women.
It also has its perks when it comes to the future of the Mystics program and potential recruits, but Forward was quick to acknowledge that his former players treat him as fairly as anyone else.
“It has some advantages when it comes to recruiting, although they treat me pretty much the same as any other coach wanting to talk to a player on their squads,” added Forward. “They are committed to their players and they provide their experiences that have played a high level so they have their player’s best interests in mind, and I respect that 100%.”
“It’s not easy navigating the waters as a young high school coach and we are very proud of them.”
When asked what he tries to instill in his players during their time at Mount Saint Vincent University, Forward focused once again on their involvement in the community.
“Sport teaches so much,” said Forward. “But, I think our program speaks to the importance of volunteering, dealing with adversity, being committed to whatever it is you’re doing, taking risks, and to look after one another.”
“On that point, I think it’s incredible that two Head Coaches have former teammates as Assistants. That bond and trust is evident!”
A big part of coaching is helping to prepare players for the next chapter of their lives, whatever that may look like for each individual player. Forward works to instill the same messages with all of his players, and from a coaching perspective, he’s tried to pass on some lessons along the way.
“Care about your players,” continued Forward. “Get to know them and be there for them.”
“Many times I’ve heard this saying, but I believe it wholeheartedly; it’s not about the X’s and O’s, it’s more about the Janes and the Joes.”
For the Mystics to have six former players on high school coaching staffs across the Halifax area, another two serving as Assistant Coaches for the Women’s Basketball program, and many current players having worked with local basketball clubs during the season, their off-court efforts in the community will outweigh their on-court successes as a program. It shows that the program cares more about the wellbeing of their players and coaches as opposed to the X’s and O’s of basketball, and that level of trust and respect between one another has then turned into on-court success.
On the court, the success of the Mystics speaks for itself. Four straight CCAA National Championship berths is something to behold. You have to be a little lucky along the way to have a run like that, but four straight berths to the National Championship speaks for itself.
However, looking closer at the program will show you just how successful the team has been off the court, and the players are continuing the Mystics tradition of success as coaches themselves.
As they continue along their own path, they remember their time as a member of the Mystics, and Forward couldn’t be more proud.
“All of these players gave their heart and soul wearing a Mystics jersey,” concluded Forward. “They bleed blue, and they are all fabulous alum.”
“They still operate and are committed away from our program, the same way when they were in it.”
There’s only one way for the Mystics program to do things. Whether that’s as a program, or when alum move on and begin their lives post-university. You can see the direction still living in their lives with several alum on the same coaching staff at high schools across the province.
One way – Together.
- T. Bennett