By Lethbridge Herald on July 17, 2015.
The University of Lethbridge Pronghorns are looking for a women’s basketball coach.
Erin McAleenan is leaving the program after three seasons to take the head coaching job with the York University Lions in Toronto. For McAleenan, it’s a move that takes her closer to home and to a much bigger school.
The timing is awful for the U of L, which just introduced an interim athletic director in Ken McInnes after the resignation of Sandy Slavin, the previous director of athletics and recreation services. McAleenan was 20-44 in three seasons, enjoying her best success in her first season when she went 10-12.
McAleenan accomplished a lot in a short time, continuing to work on a Junior Horns program started by her predecessor, Donna Branch. McAleenan refined that program thanks in part to full-time assistant coach Claire Meadows, who left for the head coaching job at the University of Northern British Columbia at season’s end. McAleenan was also instrumental in forming the Prairie Elite Basketball League, a competitive circuit for youth players that would pit them against top regional prospects from other Canada West Conference schools.
“The timing, obviously, is not ideal,” said McAleenan.
She added that the toughest part was telling her players, present and future.
“That’s the hardest part, that’s who I am, I like to think I’m pretty clear that I’m committed to my players,” she said. “They give you everything. They work so hard, they try to give you exactly what you ask and I definitely felt like I let them down, but at the same time, this is a once-in-a-lifetime chance for me to make this move.”
McAleenan’s family is in New Brunswick, a drive her father claims “he loves to make” but she also was an assistant at Trent University and lived in Port Hope, Ont. She said she has family and friends in Canada’s biggest city, too.
“For me, this has more to do with what I’m looking towards than what I’m leaving. I enjoyed my time at the U of L. We had our struggles but we had successes, too.”
McAleenan struggled to get local recruits to commit, losing prospects like Jackie Tollestrup of Raymond and Kacie Bosch from the Chinook Coyotes. While Tollestrup committed, then reneged, Bosch chose NCAA Division 1 Gonzaga over the U of L. McAleenan was known as a coach who pushed players hard and while some, like centre Kim Veldman, reacted well to it, others left the program.
McAleenan pushed hard for Bosch, who is the only local player in the past three years to make a big impact in university-level basketball, but fell short when a top U.S. program like Gonzaga moved in.
“Obviously, anyone I recruited I felt was good enough to play here but certainly I thought I almost beat out that big American school for her, but I think where the real future of the program was the U17 Junior Horns,” she said. “That was pretty tough, to know the work I’d put in and those girls had put in. Donna started it and I maybe refined it but that group of Grade 11s, they wanted to play Horns basketball, they wanted to play at home, they wanted to play for the U of L and, hey, they wanted to play for me and now I won’t get a chance to see that through,” she said.
Prior to taking the helm of the Horns, her first head coaching opportunity at the CIS level, McAleenan was the lead assistant coach for the University of Alberta Pandas from 2009-12 while she completed her Master’s of Arts with a specialization in coaching.
“I learned a lot in my time in Lethbridge, I really enjoyed it and I’ll always appreciate the opportunity I got,” said McAleenan. “Without it, I wouldn’t be making this move and I wouldn’t be moving along in my career so I have to thank everyone who helped me out and who supported me while I was here.”
McInnes said in a release that the Horns would immediately begin the search for a new head coach.
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