Riverside guard Avery Sussex led her team past Kiera Pemberton and the Walnut Grove Gators in last season's B.C. Quad-A final at the LEC. (Photo by Blair Shier property of Vancouver Sports Pictures 2023. All Rights Reserved)
Feature High School Girls Basketball

Avery Sussex and the Big Dance: How an amazing high school debut at Riverside foretold a career of dominance, and a chance to forge an unforgettable Rapids’ finish!

PORT COQUITLAM — The basketball court is the place where Avery Sussex has shown her heart from the very start.

It’s also the place where it’s been impossible to miss the fact that she’s had her guile for a while.

Very few players ever make the kind of debut that Sussex did, when as a 10th grader coming off the Covid-cancelled 2020-21 season, she poured home a game-high 36 points to lead the Riverside Rapids of Port Coquitlam past Langley’s Brookswood Bobcats.

Pretty cool you’re thinking, but maybe not that rare… except for?

“It was the first time she had ever played in a high school basketball game and it was hilarious,” her longtime head coach Paul Langford said earlier this month in fond reminiscence of the now-senior point guard who will work to try and lead her Rapids to a repeat title at the top-tiered Quad-A level when the 2024 championships tip off Wednesday at the Langley Events Centre.

On that fall day back in 2021, some of Sussex’s new and more-seasoned teammates may have wondered if they were going to get their share of touches before their grad weekends came around.

And when Sussex phoned her older sister Emily — then a senior at crosstown rival Terry Fox — to tell her about her debut performance, her big sister told her to “…pass the ball next time.”

Riverside point guard Avery Sussex has a hug for head coach Paul Langford after the Rapids beat Walnut Grove the B.C. Quad-A championship game last season at the Langley Events Centre. (Photo by Wilson Wong 2023. All Rights Reserved)

“Avery didn’t know what was going on,” Langford continued, his tone teasing at the wonderful incredulity of those moments when innocence, adrenaline and talent are released as a singular force on an unsuspecting opponent.

“At one point, though, she hit a three (to push the lead beyond 30 points) and when the ball went out of bounds the clock stopped,” Langford continued. “She came running over to me and wanted to know why and I told her that’s what happens in a high school game.”

To that stage in her hoops career, Sussex’s only playing experience had come at the club level, where when the score favours one team by 30 or more points in the second half, the game reverts to running time.

“Then the whole team cracks up because she said ‘Oh, I would have scored more earlier if I knew that’. She was having so much fun that held back because she didn’t want the game to end early.”

Next season, she heads off to an NCAA Div. 1 hoops career at UC-Davis where the story, after all this time, is probably still good for a lot more laughs.

Taking a tough, contested shot is Riverside’s Avery Sussex. The senior point guard is hoping to leading Poco’s Rapids to a third straight B.C. senior girls Quad-A championship game appearance when the provincial tournament opens a four-day run at the Langley Events Centre Feb. 28-March 2. (Photo by Howard Tsumura property of Varsity Letters 2024. All Rights Reserved)


Last season, with a Grade 11 Avery Sussex as its stabilizing force, the Rapids exorcised the ghosts of three prior top-tiered B.C. championship game apperance losses, finding a way to slow the dynamic senior Kiera Pemberton and the rest of Langley’s Walnut Grove Gators 70-52 en route to the school’s first-ever senior varsity basketball title.

The season prior, in perhaps the most epic crosstown showdown ever staged in a B.C. girls championship game, Riverside fell 77-75 to its PoCo neighbours from Terry Fox Secondary.

Two of the most dramatic title-game finishes the girls’ largest tier has seen in recent memory coming back-to-back and with Sussex, in her first two high school seasons, playing the defining role for her team in both contests.

Now, as the Rapids prepare to open up the chase for a third-straight title game appearance and a repeat title with Wednesday’s opening-round B.C. tourney meeting against Cranbrook’s Mt. Baker Wild (8:30 a.m,. LEC South Court), it’s no surprise that the now-senior Sussex has gleaned much from the myriad of pressurized moments she has encountered and the variety of roles she has been asked by her team to play.

“My goal has always been to be able to do everything evenly,” she says of attempting to gain mastery of all of the game’s requisite skills, regardless of primary position.

“If it’s not insanely excelling at one thing, it’s that I want to have all aspects of the game in my bag,” she continues.

And that includes playing in the post, a place you might not expect a 5-foot-8 point guard to be able to perform with efficiency.

Yet that’s just what she most memorably did last March in helping her team to a 56-44 B.C. Quad-A tournament semifinal win over its zone arch-nemesis, the Burnaby Central Wildcats.

“I work on my post moves… I need to adapt to those things as a point guard going into the post,” she agrees. “Even though the need for it might not happen often, all that goes a long ways for moments when I need to step up.”

Ask Langford, who coached his first-ever high school team some 49 years ago, just how rare a talent his senior floor general actually is, and the speed with which he answers the question belies the fact that he’s referencing a span of what is basically a half-century’s worth of his personal experience.

“Avery is so good and so talented that she has made me push her maybe too far,” Langford begins. “The better you are, the more you get scrutinized, and she is definitely the best player I have coached. Her personality is kind of neat that if she doesn’t get something, she pushes back. I love that from her.”

Riverside’s Avery Sussex, in action during her Grade 10 season, puts some bounce in her game as she is pursued by Walnut Grove’s Tia Rowell in the semifinals of the B.C. senior girls 2022 Quad-A basketball championships at the Langley Events Centre. (Photo by Wilson Wong 2022. All Rights Reserved)

Basketball fans see it during most every game Riverside game, and while it can look like, say, the resumption of the same argument that has been taking place for a few seasons, it’s more like the perfect example of an athlete looking for a deeper understanding of what her role is on the floor.

“I don’t really know how to explain it,” Sussex says, “but I like to keep him on his toes, I guess.”

And when you ask Langford to talk to the full scope of what Sussex’s per-game averages of 26 points, seven assists, six rebounds and five steals have meant to the province’s No. 1-ranked team this season, the head coach’s best answer is to look back on his last quarter century at Riverside and salute some of the players who have helped raise the girls basketball program to its elite status in the province.

Full disclosure: If you let Langford wax poetic, the list of past Rapids’ players whose best skills he feels are already encompassed to a similar or even greater degree by Sussex gets pretty long.

Here’s three:

Alissa Flynn (Class of 2002) — The Rapids weren’t on the provincial radar at the very turn of the century, but Flynn, a 5-foot-7 wing was an extraordinary shooter who dropped 40-plus point seven times in her high school career.

Courtney Gerwing (Class of 2004) — The player who led Riverside into the provincial spotlight for the first time, this 5-foot-11 wing/guard brought grit and panache to the floor. Exactly 20 years before Sussex’s cap-and-gown season, Gerwing was stuffing stat sheets with a skill and grace which Langford likes to call “…her ‘savoire faire’. She could find a teammate when no one was expecting it. She could pass it behind the back, and no-look.”

Kristina Collins (Class of 2009) — As a ninth grader she was once conscripted into a pick-up game on Simon Fraser’s West Gym floor to join then-Canadian national teammers Teresa Kleindienst and Kim Smith who were looking to run against that season’s Clan team in an impromptu scrimmage. Collins promptly knocked down a couple of shots, and later starred at SFU. “She was our floor marshall who made it work,” Langford said of his Riverside team during Collins’ tenure. “KC had it and Avery has the same thing.”

Riverside’s Avery Sussex feels the defensive pressure of Mikayla Eadie of Victoria’s Belmont Bulldogs on Day 1 of the B.C. senior girls Quad-A basketball championships at the Langley Events Centre. (Photo by Howard Tsumura property of Varsity Letters 2022. All Rights Reserved)


It’s a guy.


Back in 1975, as a teenaged, figure-it-out-as-you-go basketball coach, Paul Langford got a chance to coach his younger brother Peter with East Vancouver’s Gladstone Gladiators.

Before too long, Langford had moved up to the senior varsity level and his fondest memories come from the three senior varsity seasons (1979-80 through 1981-82) in which he was able to coach the driven, dedicated 6-foot Glads’ guard/forward named Diego Marchese.

“I remember driving my brother to a game one day (in 1979-80) and we were playing St. Thomas More out of Ontario and I was really nervous,” Langford remembers. “I told Peter ‘I don’t know if I can do this… you know, coach senior boys’ and my brother went and told Diego that. So Diego comes up to me and he says ‘It’s OK coach, I got you,’” Langford said with a laugh.

“So then (Marchese) goes out and he scores 54 points as a Grade 10, and it was rare back then for Grade 10s to play senior. That’s just the kind of thing Avery does.”

As a footnote to Marchese’s talent, he was the youngest talent selected to play under auspices of then-Victoria Vikes head coach Ken Shields on the 1981 B.C. team at the Canada Summer Games, and a Vancouver Sun story in December of that year includes plaudits from then-Canadian national team head coach Jack Donohue and Shields, who of course would later serve in the same capacity.

Marchese suffered a knee injury at the very start of his university career at Simon Fraser, and after entering medical school at UBC was talked into a return to the court in 1988-89 by the Thunderbirds’ then-head coach Bruce Enns.

“I got to coach him (as head coach) in his senior year (1981-82) of high school when Bill Ruby took the Langara job on a year’s sabbatical,” remembers Langford. “Diego was just unbelievable … he might be the best I ever coached… but I think that Avery is passing him.”

Riverside’s Avery Sussex is the picture of drive as she goes to the rim against Belmont’s Marley Birnanbaum on Day 1 of the 2022 B.C. senior girls Quad-A basketball championships at the Langley Events Centre. (Photo by Howard Tsumura property of Varsity Letters 2022. All Rights Reserved)

And with a Dec. 20 birthday, Sussex is also one of the youngest players in the entire B.C. girls hoops Class of ‘25.

Maybe there’s something to all of that.

When compared alongside her peers, certainly not in ways which reflect a lack of experience, maturity or wisdom.

Perhaps it’s an inherent quality of curiosity that we get as youngsters and need to work hard to foster as we get older?

“We played Kelowna recently, and in that game, Jorja (Hart, Riverside’s outstanding Grade 11 guard) had 28 points, and Avery had 14 points and had trouble finishing,” the coach begins.

“Afterwards, I asked her about her game and she said ‘Sorry, I was bad.’ But I told her I thought she was brilliant. She only played 28 minutes, but she also had 14 rebounds, nine assists and five steals,” Langford said, highlighting how close Sussex had actually come to a quadruple-double.

“I said to her ‘Don’t equate how well you played with how many points you scored.’”

When told of her coach’s comments, she later replied: “I get caught up when I miss shots or when things I’ve worked on and should be easy don’t work. I need to remind myself that if I’m not scoring I just need to keep the ball moving, get it to someone else. Or rebounds. Get stops. Just make it up in some other way.”

Sometimes she needs a reminder.

But as the final week of her high school career approaches, it’ll be her guile.. the thing she’s had for a while, that sets her apart.

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