Esson Returns To Varsity Reds

Nicole Esson(Fredericton, NB), who Varsity Reds fans will remember as Nicole LaFleur, runs drills during training camp. Esson is returning to the women's basketball team after a short-lived retirement. (Andy Campbell/UNB Athletics)
Nicole Esson(Fredericton, NB), who Varsity Reds fans will remember as Nicole LaFleur, runs drills during training camp. Esson is returning to the women's basketball team after a short-lived retirement. (Andy Campbell/UNB Athletics)

(FREDERICTON, NB) Nicole Esson, or Nicole LaFleur as Varsity Reds fans may remember, just couldn’t stay away.

After unofficially retiring after last season, Esson has returned to the Varsity Reds women’s basketball team.

“When the option of having both basketball and being able to live in Halifax with Peter came up, I couldn't pass up the opportunity,” says Esson.

Following the 2016-17 season, the fourth year nursing student, decided she could no longer balance her personal life, her education and basketball.

The 23-year-old was married this past summer. She had made plans to join her husband and complete her practicum as she continues to work toward her nursing degree.

“The main reason I’d decided not to play, earlier this year, was because I wanted to be intentional in putting my marriage first.”

While the newlyweds were planning their next chapter, Varsity Reds head coach Jeff Speedy was thinking of ways he could include Esson and allow her to live her new life.

In late August, a plan was presented to the happy couple.

“We sat down and had a chat one day, then Linda(Speedy’s wife) and I chatted with Nicole and her husband,” says Speedy. “We had a mature conversation, and came to the conclusion that we could make it work.”

Esson has started 53 of the 56 regular season games she’s played for the Varsity Reds during her three season career.

In 2016-17, she started all 20 games, recording career highs in points(173), rebounds(82) and steals(36).

Those numbers are only part of the reason why Speedy is happy to have her back in the fold.

“This is huge. She helps us so much both on and off the court,” he says. “Her ability on the court makes us so much better, but I can’t express how much her leadership helps us as well.”

“Christmas in September,” that’s how Speedy described his reaction to seeing Esson walk into the gym on the opening day of training camp.

“I didn’t know for sure that she was going to play until she showed up for our fitness testing,” said Speedy. “I was thrilled, but had to control my emotion because we were about to get to work.”

Esson’s role will likely change throughout the season.

She should return to the starting line-up during the first half of the season, as she’ll be in Fredericton. She’s hoping to move to Halifax for the second semester, and that’s when things could change.

“I will likely miss some practices and maybe even some games, but I’ll do the best I can to work my practicum schedule around basketball.”

“With her practicum after Christmas she will miss some practices and likely some games,” says Speedy. “We have discussed how she’ll keep her fitness at the necessary level and get some shots up to stay sharp when missing practices. We’ve also discussed her role potentially changing on the weekends that she plays after missing practices that week.”

Despite that potential, and even after her short-lived retirement, Esson is happy to be a Varsity Red again.

“I see this season as an opportunity to spend one last year with amazing people working toward a common goal,” says Esson. “I wouldn't say I have unfinished business because it would discredit the journey we’ve been on as a team, but winning certainly has crossed my mind a time or two and would be a great way to finish.”