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UPEI's Ellsworth carries family tradition into nationals

UPEI Panthers guard Jenna Mae Ellsworth cuts down the net following her team’s 78-59 victory over the Acadia Axewomen in the AUS Final 6 women’s basketball championship final Sunday at Scotiabank Centre.   RYAN TAPLIN The Chronicle Herald
UPEI Panthers guard Jenna Mae Ellsworth cuts down the net following her team’s 78-59 victory over the Acadia Axewomen in the AUS Final 6 women’s basketball championship final Sunday at Scotiabank Centre. RYAN TAPLIN The Chronicle Herald

Fourth-year guard named U Sports player of the year

Before last Sunday, Tracy MacEachern Ellsworth coached the last UPEI Panthers team to a win an Atlantic conference women’s basketball title.

That was in 1998.

MacEachern Ellsworth also played on the only Panthers team to win a national medal at the Canadian university championship.

They earned a silver medal in 1989.

Her daughter is halfway from accomplishing both feats in the same year.

“My mom was a big influence on me,” UPEI fourth-year guard Jenna Mae Ellsworth said in an interview Sunday after the Panthers defeated the Acadia Axewomen in the AUS Final 6 championship game at Scotiabank Centre.

“She went to nationals a couple times as a coach and as a player. It’s pretty incredible. That’s why UPEI was a natural fit for me. It has a special place in my heart. And not just because my mom went there, which means a lot. We have so many supporters. I’m so impressed by their support.”

Late Wednesday night, Ellsworth was named the U Sports women’s basketball player of the year. She’s the first player in UPEI history to win the Nan Copp Award and just the third player from the conference (Justine Colley of Saint Mary’s and Acadia’s Paloma Anderson are the others) to earn the honour.

UPEI’s all-star backcourt of Ellsworth and tournament MVP Reese Baxendale combined for 49 points as the Panthers beat the two-time defending champion Axewomen 78-59 in the AUS final.

The team is in Ottawa now, waiting to play Thursday’s opening game of the U Sports women’s basketball championship. The Panthers are ranked sixth for nationals and will face the No. 3 Ryerson Rams at 2 p.m. (AT).

Ellsworth earned a rare distinction last week when she was named the conference’s most valuable player and its defensive player of the year, becoming just the third player to take both honours since the AUS started awarding the defensive player in 2001. Memorial’s Jenine Browne (2003) and Katherine Quackenbush (2008) were the other double award winners.

The Charlottetown native led the Panthers with 20.5 points per game this season while averaging 5.9 rebounds, 3.2 assists and 2.1 steals. UPEI limited its opponents to an AUS-best 61.9 points per game.

The Panthers entered the AUS Final 6 as the No. 1 seed but had to get past an Axewomen team that had their number in recent years.

In Ellsworth’s sophomore season, UPEI lost to Acadia in the championship final. Last year, the Panthers were the second seed but watched as Haley McDonald scored a conference-record 51 points in an 88-84 Axewomen victory in the semifinals.

Third time was the charm in 2020. UPEI went on a 16-0 run to close out the final and claim its first conference banner in 22 years.

“It’s incredible that it’s taken that long; we’ve wanted it sooner than this,” said Ellsworth, a science student who will return to UPEI for a fifth season.

“We’ve worked hard every year and we’ve gotten better every year. We had been in the finals in the past and to finally get here and do it, it’s so great.”

MacEachern Ellsworth, the Atlantic university coach of the year in 1996-97, played on three conference-winning teams in the 1980s and was part of the ’89 team which lost in the national final. To this day, it was the only time UPEI played in a Canadian university women’s basketball final.

Ellsworth said the 2020 edition is capable of a long run at nationals.

“This group of girls, we’ve been together for a long time,” Ellsworth said. “We’ve had the same starting lineup the past couple of years with maybe one or two switched out. We know each other. It’s just a wonderful group that we have and, I think, will continue to do well in Ottawa.”

The Canada West champion Saskatchewan Huskies (18-2) are the No. 1 seed for the U Sports Final 8. They will face the host Carleton Ravens in the late quarter-final at 9 p.m. (AT).

The other matchups on Thursday include the second-seeded Brock Badgers versus the No. 7 Calgary Dinos (5 p.m.) and the fourth-ranked Laval Rouge et Or against the No. 5 Alberta Pandas (7 p.m.).

Consolation semifinals are Friday, semifinals and the consolation final is slated for Saturday and the gold- and bronze-medal games are Sunday.

Notes: Dalhousie head coach Rick Plato was named the U Sports men’s coach of the year at the awards gala Wednesday night in Ottawa. ... Ellsworth was selected to the first all-Canadian team while McDonald and Haille Nickerson of Memorial grabbed second-team honours. Cape Breton’s Hailey MacLeod was named to the U Sports all-rookie team. ... Dal’s Keegan Veinot, the AUS men’s MVP, grabbed a first-team all-Canadian selection, Azaro Roker of St. Francis Xavier took a second team spot and his X-Men teammate nabbed an all-rookie honour.

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