Fresh off a trip back home, one which included Thanksgiving weekend spent with the family, Ariane Saumure returned to London, taking the time to chat last Tuesday morning.
The sophomore point guard with the Western University Mustangs was reflecting on a more than solid rookie campaign, anxious for the chance to build upon that base with her teammates, a squad that has not yet been given the green light to even practice together in this new school year.
On Thursday (October 15th), two days after our conversation, the OUA (Ontario University Athletics) announced the cancellation of all sanctioned varsity sport programming and championships through to March 31st (2021), effectively wiping out the current athletic season (2020-2021) completely.
Saumure is now left to draw on the many positives from the last twelve months, searching for the necessary motivation to remain engaged, even as she pursues an academically challenging degree in kinesiology.
Ironically, some eighteen months ago, long before the pandemic, uncertainty reined in the world of Ariane Saumure. Brian Cheng, the man who pursued the graduate of Ecole Secondaire Macdonald-Cartier as his prized recruit, would not be returning to coach the Mustangs. Three months later, Nate McKibbon was named as his replacement.
"As if it wasn't already nerve-wracking enough being a new addition to the team, I now had no idea who the new coach was, and he didn't know me," said the 19 year-old eldest of two children in the family. "There were questions: am I going to like this new coach? Am I going to like his style of play? Is this going to change everything?" stated Saumure.
"We ended up very quickly knowing that the fit was awesome. Even through his drills during the summer, I could tell right away that his style of play was very similar to both my high-school coach (Ron Poulin - ESMC Pantheres) and my club coach (John Desormeaux - Sudbury Jam) - so I was actually pretty stoked about starting."
Suiting up with a veteran-laden team that posted a record of 19-3 before falling in the provincial semi-finals, Saumure more than held her own. Playing behind first team all-star Maddie Horst, the local product still managed to secure almost 18 minutes per game of playing time, tied with centre Brett Fischer for the lead among non-starters.
Even as things tightened in the playoffs, the multi-sport star, who also captured SDSSAA track and field titles (200m/400m/long jump) and cross-country crowns during her secondary school career at Macdonald-Cartier, still managed to find playing time, averaging more than ten minutes on the court in games decided by the slimmest of margins.
The fit at Western would be a good one, indeed.
"In high-school and club, my coaches would teach us offenses that would allow us to play freely, to think for ourselves," explained Saumure. "It's not like going through option A, B, C and D, and then you have to shoot. It was more of a system where you learn the options and learn to take whatever is open. Really, you go out there and create for yourself."
"In our first exhibition game, I felt so comfortable and relaxed," she continued. "I think the way that he (coach McKibbon) lets us play really helped me with that."
That same comfort level also extended into the concept of understanding gradual developmental growth, a notion that, once again, was engrained in Saumure on a local level. "As I was growing up, coach John (Desormeaux) always gave me the role, as a point guard, to kind of lead the team," she said.
"With experience, you have to learn the hard way sometimes. You have to go out and make the mistakes in order to learn from them and grow from them. I was very grateful, at Western, for the chance to prove that I belong."
And where some northern athletes struggle with the "small fish in a big pond" adjustment that is so often required, Saumure tried her utmost to remain grounded, all while striving to reach her full potential. "If you go in with expectations that are too high, then it's easy to be let down," she stated.
"I just wanted to touch the floor, get maybe average playing time, just get in there and have the opportunity to make my mistakes and grow from them. I was really happy with my playing minutes - I was not expecting to be playing that much as a rookie. But as the years go on and players graduate, eventually, you're going to be the player the younger players are relying on, the player that the coaches are relying on."
With role model and fifth year senior Maddie Horst at her side, Saumure would absorb as much knowledge as humanly possible. "I am so happy that I got to play under her this year," exclaimed the one time high end soccer prospect. "I really liked being able to learn from a more experienced, older point guard."
"She really helped me, allowing me to adopt things that she was doing as part of my game - especially with her game preparation. She had a text, a self-motivating text from her brother that she would always read. It would help her prepare, make sure that she was ready."
Saumure took it to heart. With her school year and exams behind her, she turned her attention to year two, despite her apprehensions regarding the pandemic. "I was just so pumped to put in time this summer, because I knew what I wanted to work on," she said.
"I wanted to work on my passing. When you get to that level, the girls down in the paint are a lot bigger than the girls that I'm used to. It's so important to be able to make that entry pass."
Summer workouts, organized in conjunction with coach Desormeaux, often included Sudbury Five guard George Serresse, or former ESMC and club teammate and current Laurentian Voyageur Arielle Douilllette, or even the Sudbury Jam grade 11 boys team.
Yet even before the OUA announcement, there were concerns.
"We were told, initially, that we would be back on the floor on September 4th, then that got pushed back and pushed back again, until October 26th," said Saumure, prior to the cancellation of the current year. "It's a little frustrating and disappointing. You work so hard all summer and start to see improvements in your game."
"I felt so ready to be back."
Here's betting that when she does get back to playing basketball, eventually, Ariane Saumure will still as ready as she always has been.