Paloma Anderson continues to break new ground, achieve her goals
By John DeCoste '77
Paloma Anderson continues to go where no Acadia women's basketball player has gone before.
Anderson recently completed her third season with the Axewomen. Actually, she arrived at Acadia over the Christmas break in 2014, so it's really only been two years and four months.
The 2016-2017 season was arguably her finest yet. Anderson led the country in scoring at 22.8 points per game. She was a first-team AUS all-star and a first-team all-Canadian for a second year in a row.
At the Acadia Athletics year-end awards ceremony March 27, she was named Acadia's Female Athlete of the Year, after sharing that distinction with soccer's Meghan Earle for 2015-2016.
Anderson, who could be described as self-assured rather than self-absorbed, admitted in a recent interview she "wasn't surprised" to have had the season she did. "A lot of it came from taking the initiative to stay here for the summer. I worked hard, got a lot of gym time, and it made a difference."
In addition to being in the best possible shape to help the Axewomen have the best possible season, Anderson "wanted to prove my being chosen a first-team all-Canadian last year wasn't a fluke."
At just 5'1" and with a slight build, Anderson isn't exactly an imposing-looking figure on the court, but she has continually improved her game since arriving at Acadia. She credits her improvement to a strong work ethic, a drive to succeed, and being comfortable in Wolfville and at Acadia.
Asked the biggest difference now from two years ago December, she acknowledged, "I'm a so much better player now. I'd absolutely destroy on-on-one the player I was when I first came here."
Moreover, she is "still developing my game. I'm nowhere near where I want to be as a player. I'm still growing and maturing, both as a player and as a person. It's the same with my academics."
Being in Wolfville has been a life-changing experience for Anderson. Born in New York City "in a train station," she moved with her family to Arizona just before she started Grade 6.
As a basketball player, she "moved around a lot. It wasn't always my fault. I couldn't really find a home. This is the longest I've ever been with a team, or in one place" playing basketball.
She remembers well when she first came to Wolfville, which was a real leap of faith for her. She had undeniable basketball talent, but her attitude had gotten her into trouble at some of her previous stops.
She has had excellent coaching and mentoring here, first from Bev Greenlaw and then current coach Len Harvey, which along with her own drive to succeed, has made her a better team player.
Harvey, an Acadia graduate, "is always telling us there's something special about Acadia and Wolfville that you can't put your finger on. I thought it was corny at first, but now I know what he means.
"You have to get outside the university world, experience the community, talk to the people who have been here a long time. I've done that, and it's helped mold my understanding of Wolfville. There's definitely more to it than Acadia. I really can see myself coming back here someday."
The Axewomen "didn't get off to a great start" this season, losing their first four games and entering the Christmas break with a 2-5 record. They weren't getting blown out, but they weren't winning either.
"We knew we had the right players, and that we were able to hang with the best teams," Anderson says. At a tournament right after Christmas, "we beat a couple of top-five nationally ranked teams. It was a big confidence boost for us."
When the regular season resumed, "our goal was to make the playoffs, then make the championship game." The Axewomen went 9-4 the rest of the regular season, winning six of their last seven games, then defeated UPEI and top-ranked Saint Mary's before losing the AUS final to Cape Breton.
As a result, she says, the Axewomen "have a bit of a chip on our shoulders" entering next season. "The same thing happened last year. There are no steps back, only forward. Our veteran players have the experience of playing for a championship, and the younger players now have it, too."
Her goal, and that of the team, for next season "is to win the championship." Personally, "it's something I need to complete. After that, and after I graduate, I'll have checked off pretty much every single goal on my list for university."
Other than Marika Vandenelzen and Katie Ross, "everybody else can be back. Emily (MacLeod) is graduating, but she may decide to come back." Coach Harvey already has three committed recruits, including a 6'2" post player from Australia and a CEGEP graduate from Quebec.
"The girls who started the year I came in – Allie, Chanel, Emily if she's back – will be in their fifth year here. I'm looking forward to being able to finish together as a group."
She pointed out, "everybody needs to have goals. I definitely have them, both individual goals and team goals. I want us to win a championship, then make a mark at nationals.
"We didn't get to nationals this year, but we outworked a lot of the teams who ended up there. I think we would have done well if we had been there."
In terms of individual goals, "I want to be next year's MVP. I'd like to be a three-time first-team all-Canadian. My ultimate goal would be to be the USports Player of the Year, or even the defensive player of the year – coach might chuckle at that.
"I'm planning to stay here again this summer, spend lots of time in the gym. I figure I've got all summer to work on doing whatever I need to do to make these things happen."
Anderson believes these are not only realistic goals, but worth pursuing. She reiterated, "I don't feel I'm cocky, but I am confident. When you're the size I am, it helps to be confident."
Anderson is scheduled to graduate with her B.A. in sociology in the spring of 2018. "Some people come here, they play, they graduate. Graduation day will be really special for me. For a lot of people, it's part of what they do. For me, it's a real goal, one of many goals I have."
As for basketball, Anderson acknowledged, "it was a hit-or-miss thing, coming here. I could come here, make a difference, or I could have been just another kid from the U.S. who came here to play.
"I didn't think I'd be where I am now so soon. I thought by my fifth year, I might make some noise." Instead, "every year has been something different. That's been pretty cool."
She has "absolutely no regrets" over the decision to come to Acadia and Wolfville. "Actually, I'm very thankful I was kicked off the teams I was to allow me to come here. It's a different vibe. A lot of people probably wouldn't understand, and I can't explain it.
"It hasn't been perfect at all, but it's been pretty good. And it didn't happen all at once. I had some things to overcome, but being here has helped me become a better person."
Anderson said she has applied for a summer job with Special Olympics, for whom she already volunteers. "It's been really interesting to get to know the athletes as people. Too many times, people can't seem to look past the disability to see the great people they are."
If that opportunity doesn't work out, "I'd like to spend the summer doing camps and volunteer work. If that doesn't end up happening, there will be other opportunities," but she does see her future as in some way working with people with special needs.
She would also like "to continue to play basketball at the next level, maybe overseas. I know my height is a drawback, but given the opportunity, I believe I could make the grade. I couldn't do it now, or even next year, but eventually, that's the goal. Even if it doesn't happen, I can at least say I tried."