The University of Alberta Pandas basketball team is the best in the West, and one of the top three squads in the country, thanks in no small part to local St. Albert athletes Morgan Harris and Dakota Wedman.
After finishing league play with a formidable 15-5 record, the University of Alberta Pandas basketball team stomped Fraser Valley and the University of Saskatchewan before securing the program’s first ever Canada West gold medal in a win over the University of Calgary Dinos.
The gravity of this milestone, and the tightness of the U of A basketball community, are not lost on the current players, even those who are relative newcomers.
“It was amazing to be able to accomplish this with the best people by my side,” said Wedman. “It was also special to be able to share this with our Panda families and amazing alumni. One of the greatest things about being a Panda is the family that comes with it and stays with you even after you’re done playing.”
Though the Pandas also finished last year with a winning record, this season’s squad had the requisite depth and experience for a much longer postseason campaign.
“We had lots of returning players this year and we added some key players to our group, so creating chemistry and understanding how we all play was crucial for us if we wanted to win,” said Harris.
Following their Canada West victory, the Pandas quickly set their sights on the country’s top prize: a U Sports National Championship in Sydney, Nova Scotia.
On March 9th, the Pandas played their first game at nationals against the Acadia Axewomen, reversing a 27-25 halftime deficit to win 61-57 and advance to the semis.
Despite an impressive Pandas showing in which Harris put up nine points, the Queen’s Gaels ultimately managed to outdo the Pandas in the semi final round.
In Sunday’s bronze-medal game, the Pandas came out on top 64-49 against a very competitive St. Mary’s team, securing a podium finish.
“It is so special to me and the girls; it’s exciting to see how much we all have improved as a whole and what we can achieve when we really dig in,” said Harris about the team’s run.
Harris and Wedman — teammates at St. Albert Catholic High School — both played 2022/2023 with the benefit of a freshman season under their belts, this being their second year with the Pandas.
“I found myself a lot more comfortable this year, especially because my team had complete trust in me,” said Harris. “I’ve been given a challenging role on the team, but I’m learning to have fun while filling my role.”
“The jump from high school to Usport is definitely big — much faster and stronger pace of play, so it was for sure an adjustment that I had to incorporate into my game,” said Wedman. “I’m still working to do so.”
And while the energy and excitement of such a massive achievement is still fresh, next year is already on the radar for the promising young players, even as the balancing act of life as a student athlete resumes.
“I’m looking to catch up on school and continue working on my own skills for the upcoming season,” said Harris.