Ainsleigh Mensah, who grew up from the age of eight in Terrace and whose grandparents still live here, followed in her brother’s footsteps after high school graduation, moving to the Lower Mainland to attend Douglas College and play varsity basketball for the Royals. She just graduated with a transfer degree in Criminology, which she plans to combine with a Legal Office Assistant degree, also from Douglas, to eventually move to RCMP or corrections.
And while school has been her focus, basketball has kept her driven, and this year her hard work paid off when she was awarded the Andy and Helen Andrews Memorial Award in celebration of combined athletic and academic achievement. This on top of the Royals, of which she was one of just three veteran players, earning a medal at provincial championships for the first time in over 20 years. She took some time out of a busy exam week to answer a few questions about her banner year.
Have you won awards like this before? Was it a surprise?
Although I’ve won awards each year at Douglas, this particular one was a complete surprise to me. In a way I proved to myself that I can accomplish great things on and off the court, and I’m greatly humbled by every opportunity I’m given.
The award is for combined academic and athletic achievement. How do you manage to balance the two?
I never was a straight A student until Grade 12 really, so managing basketball and school was tough in the beginning. I live super close to Douglas so I’m very fortunate—on a rough day I would wake up at 8:30 a.m. go to class until 11 a.m., get something small to eat, go back to school for 2 p.m. and have a scheduled team workout for 4 p.m., then finally my day would end with a 7-9 p.m. practice.
It’s a pretty big commitment. I always took the time to study above everything, if it meant early mornings and late nights that’s what I had to do, but it taught me a lot about the importance of school.
What advice would you give to someone who is struggling to stay on top of school because athletic pressure, or even social pressure is getting to them?
High school is completely different than college, in college there’s a lot more you have to worry about, with practice 4-5 times a week, workouts twice a week and then studies. It’s a pretty big commitment and student athletes often let go of one in order to excel in another. Balancing your school and sport is huge—if you can’t, pressure, worrying and anxiety sets in.
You always see athletes in college freaking out about eligibility or injuries, but there always needs to be a healthy balance to keep in check—if it takes tutoring, more gym time, or taking time to rehab your injury. I’ll be one of the oldest players as a fourth year player, so I think it’s always important to give them help where they need it—I remember being in the same position as them at one point in time.
You have a fellow player from Kitimat on your team… that must be neat! Do you two bond over northwest stuff?
It’s funny, me and Adell Paul (from Kitimat) have a long history together, we played together on the summer games teams in the summer, played against each other in high school, but since we play completely different positions on the court, I never really had a chance to get to know her until this year. I think immediately we got along just because it’s so rare to see northern players in collegiate sports, I think it’s awesome we can both represent our communities in such a big way.
And congrats on winning bronze this year! Tell me a bit about the season.
We won the first medal in a provincial championship in over 20 years, so understandingly this year was high on the emotional scale. A lot of milestones have been reached by this team and I’m so fortunate to be a part of it.
We were in second the entire season and had the conviction to win the championships to move on to nationals, but lost by a basket in the semi-finals. That didn’t break us though, and my coach (Curtis Nelson) told me something that impacted me so greatly—I watched one of my best friends (a point guard on the Cap Blues team) collapse after their championship loss to VIU, and although I wanted so badly to be in her position, he brought up the fact that we were one of 15 teams in Canada that could end our season with a medal, and not only this but we went from a bottom ranked team, to a nationally ranked team all in one year. We owe a lot of that to our coach, he has done a tremendous job with the program—even winning PacWest coach of the year.
Next year I look forward to being in my fourth year and contributing as a more experienced veteran, it’s awesome to see how my last two years of eligibility will end up.