photo: Marvin Moore

The Next Level

As their university days wind down, basketball dynamo Justine Colley and business whiz Andrew Russell say their goodbyes, plot their futures, and reveal their plans to keep Saint Mary’s close.

By Suzanne Robicheau | spring 2014

The open staircase in the Homburg Centre for Health & Wellness is more than an airy backdrop for photos of Justine Colley and Andrew Russell. Forward-looking, impressive and strong, it’s a fitting symbol for two of Saint Mary’s most recent graduates.

Colley takes her place on the bottom step, smiling for the camera as she recollects memorable moments from the past five years at Saint Mary’s—both as a Finance major in the Sobey School of Business, and an all-time great athlete for the Saint Mary’s Basketball Huskies.

One of the top players to ever play in the Atlantic University Sport (AUS) conference, Colley finished her university basketball career with five selections as a first-team AUS all-star, four as an all-Canadian—including three first-team nods—and one on the Canadian Interuniversity Sport (CIS) all-rookie squad. She is a two-time CIS player of the year (2012-13 and 2013-14), and most valuable player in  during the same period.

“My accomplishments reflect the incredible support I’ve received from family, friends, coaches and professors,” says Colley, displaying the modest, team-first attitude that characterized her years as a Husky. “It was a real honour to play with such strong, talented girls. Our head coach, Scott Munro, recruits good athletes, but he also recruits good people. As clichéd as it may sound, we’ve become a family.”

As a graduate of Halifax Grammar School’s International Baccalaureate program, and a stellar basketball athlete, Colley had her pick of universities. “I was recruited by at least one school in almost every province in Canada,” she says. Saint Mary’s had a winning combination of small class sizes, a strong tradition of athletics, and close proximity to her home in East Preston, NS. “I had the independence of living in residence, but could still go home for dinner whenever I wanted.”

Colley declares herself happy to have chosen Saint Mary’s, grinning as she steals a glance at the Homburg Centre’s reception desk, the place where she met her fiancé Nicolas Leger, an officer in the Canadian Army.

“Coming here is the best decision I’ve ever made,” she adds, “and not just because I met my fiancé. Saint Mary’s is a lot about support and relationships-not just on the basketball court, but also in the classroom. It’s an amazing place to be a student athlete. My professors have cheered me on from the stands and congratulated me in class when I had a good game.”

“The faculty at Saint Mary’s is phenomenal,” notes Andrew Russell, waiting on the sidelines for his turn with the photographer. “We have some very distinguished professors, and with smaller class sizes, I took advantage of the opportunity to get to know them, and learn from them as much as possible.”

Russell MBA’14 is the outgoing President of the Sobey MBA Society. Like many members of the Saint Mary’s community, he has had the opportunity to see Colley in action. “She’s awesome,” he says, “both on the court and off.”

A sprint canoeist who competed in the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing, Russell has first-hand knowledge of the hard work and dedication required to succeed as an athlete. Although he no longer paddles competitively, this year he applied his Olympian stamina in order to balance full-time studies at Saint Mary’s with the full time position he accepted at Halifax health care consulting and event management firm, Zed Group.

“Both in business and athletics, it pays to have a strong work ethic and a goal-setting mentality,” he says.

Russell recently received a Futures Fund Scholarship for Outstanding Leadership, one of ten $5,500 awards given annually by Canada’s Outstanding CEO of the Year™ program to Canadian university business students who demonstrate exemplary leadership in their academic and extra-curricular initiatives.

As a recipient of one of these prestigious scholarships, he traded his track suit for a tuxedo to attend an awards gala at The Ritz-Carlton Hotel in Toronto. “It was awesome to be honoured at an event to announce Canada’s Outstanding CEO of the Year,” says Russell. “I see this scholarship a testament to my hard work, both for the MBA program and as a volunteer.”

Like Colley, Russell is quick to recognize the role that others play in his success. “I certainly couldn’t have made it this far without so much incredible support,” he says. “I am very grateful for the camaraderie and friendship I found at the Sobey School of Business and in the Sobey MBA Society. Being around like-minded people, and collectively pursuing ambitious goals, made it possible for me to grow as a leader.”

As part of his role with the Zed Group, Russell is currently working on FANfit 2015 (FANfit.ca), a fitness and fundraising challenge that pairs participants with top tier Canadian athletes. “Planning will be easier now that I have only one full-time job,” he says. In August, things will get more complicated again when he becomes a father, but that’s a challenge he’s eager to embrace.

At a prompt from the photographer, Russell joins Colley at the foot of the staircase for the next series of photos. Between shots, the two discuss China, where each once competed on a grand stage: Russell at the Beijing Olympics, and Colley at the FISU Universiades (University) Games in Shenzhen. And then, as so often happens in Nova Scotia-especially in the spring-the talk turns to warm weather, next steps, and new beginnings.=

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