I got Bruce Langford on the phone this week and I told the longtime Simon Fraser women’s basketball coach that I wanted to ask him a hypothetical question.
“What would you think if a pair of sportswriters decided to get together and hold a player draft to determine the 40 best girls high school basketball players in B.C. history?
“My first reaction?” began Langford, “‘Ohhh, you’re going to piss a lot of people off.”
“But we’ve got good intentions, and 70 years of combined experience in this racket, the vast majority of which has been spent with a keen eye on the high school beat…”
“It’s not going to be easy,” warned Langford, who before winning national championships at SFU was winning provincial high school titles at Mission’s Heritage Park Secondary. “In fact, it’s going to be a nightmare.”
Right about now I can hear Bill Withers’ voice in my head, singing Ain’t No Sunshine.
What was the The Province’s Steve Ewen thinking when he called me last Sunday to pitch our shared energies towards just such a futile exercise?
In fact at first I declined.
Yet the more I thought about it, the more I realized what a good idea Steve had… a big first step, in fact, towards opening the dialogue of debate within a segment of the B.C. sports world whose wonderful history is largely unknown.
And so on Wednesday morning, over a brisk 35-minute phone call, the deed was completed.
Steve picked first, and for 20 rounds I followed him, and when it was all over, I felt good. Proud, in fact, that my longtime former co-worker and I had indeed accomplished our task: To give our best effort towards compiling a list of the Top 40 girls players in B.C. high school history… one which I know will get people talking.
Yet this universe is so vast and so un-catalogued that a couple days of research just didn’t seem enough.
“If you asked me today, and then you asked me again in two weeks, my list would probably be different,” chuckled Langford.
OK, so here’s the overall list (with my picks — the even numbers — in bold-face type), with so much more to follow below:
THE TOP 40
B.C. GIRLS HIGH SCHOOL PLAYERS
1 Kim Smith (Heritage Park, 2000)
2 Bev Smith (Salmon Arm, 1978)
3 Teresa Kleindienst (Heritage Park, 1997)
4 Aislinn Konig (Brookswood, 2017)
5 Nayo Raincock-Ekunwe (Kalamalka, 2009)
6 Allison Towriss (Salmon Arm, 1977)
7 Erica McGuinness (Handsworth, 2003)
8 Bev Bland (Richmond, 1970)
9 Amber Hall (Britannia, 1995)
10 Carol Turney (Chilliwack, 1972)
11 Sarah McKay (Stelly’s, 2003)
12 Ruth Hamblin (Houston Christian, 2012)
13 Carla Stone (Killarney, 1989)
14 Michelle Hendry (Caledonia, 1987)
15 Breanne Watson (R.A. McMath, 2003)
16 Erin Carson (Abbotsford, 1984)
17 Cheryl Kelsey (Killarney, 1980)
18 Taya Hanson (Kelowna, 2018)
19 Erin Gibbons (Salmon Arm, 1997)
20 Erin Chambers (Heritage Park, 2011)
21 Megan Magee (Windsor, 1990)
22 Louise Forsyth (Brookswood, 2017)
23 Christine Rigby (Spectrum, 1996)
24 Tavia Rowell (Walnut Grove, 2019)
25 Lani Gibbons (Salmon Arm, 2003)
26 Emma Wolfram (South Kamloops, 2013)
27 Camille Thompson (Salmon Arm, 1989)
28 Kris Young (Handsworth, 2010)
29 Dani Langford (Heritage Park, 2000)
30 Diana Lee (Handsworth, 2010)
31 Susie Jarosch (Prince Rupert, 1990)
32 Ashley Burke (Argyle, 2001)
33 Lisa Tindle (York House, 2005)
34 Leanne Evans (Port Moody, 2004)
35 Lindsay Brooke (Spectrum, 1996)
36 Tara Wallack (Semiahmoo, 2021)
37 Deja Lee (Semiahmoo, 2021)
38 Kelsey Adrian (Brookswood, 2006)
39 Izzy Forsyth (Semiahmoo, 2021)
40 Susan Ewanick (Vanderhoof, 1984)
So how about that list? (Click here to read Steve Ewen’s story)
If you’ve invested any amount of time following girls and women’s basketball in B.C., I am sure that right about now you’ve got a reaction.
But before I get into a little more nitty-gritty regarding my own selections, here’s the thing that I feel is most important: Regardless of who made what pick, I just wanted this list to represent, as best as such a list can, the eras, the dynasties, and the singular talents that have made the B.C. girls game so special..
That’s my simple way of saying that while I love my picks, I also love Steve’s.
And let’s not forget that while we’re living in a truly amazing version of the information age, there are no fantasy guides to consult here.
From 1948 through 2021, we’ve got published lists of provincial champions, but regularly-accessible lists of all-stars don’t start until 1977.
Stats, as in virtually all B.C. high school sports, are either non-existent or incomplete.
And thus I went with what I know, who I watched live, and who I have come to understand, through their future accomplishments in the game, to be richly deserving.
I never saw Bev Smith play in high school, but I trust my sources who watched her play for Salmon Arm in the 1970s. And it would be folly to say I disregarded everything else she accomplished at Oregon and on the world stage with our national team as a pioneering symbol of Canadian basketball.
By the same token, I saw Kris Young play live for nine straight years, from ninth grade at North Vancouver’s Handsworth Secondary where she won two B.C. titles and an MVP award, through five years at UBC in which she became the Thunderbirds’ all-time regular-season scoring leader.
Unfortunately, I haven’t seen everybody.
Here then is a little bit of a deeper dive into my list:
2 BEV SMITH (Salmon Arm, 1978) — A three-time B.C. first-team all-star who led Salmon Arm to three B.C. titles in the open-tiered era (pre-1981). A college star at Oregon, she was named to the Pac 12’s All-Century team in 2016. Played in two Olympic Games (1984, 1996) and resides in both Canadian and Women’s basketball hall of fames.
4 AISLINN KONIG (Brookswood, 2017) — Led Brookswood to three straight B.C. top-tiered titles (2014-16), was named tournament MVP in all three of those seasons and in 2015 also named Top Defensive Player. After starring at North Carolina State has now embarked on a professional career.
6 ALLISON MCNEILL (Salmon Arm, 1977) — A two-time B.C. first team all-star at point guard, helped lead Salmon Arm to two B.C. titles (1976-77) before helping lead Sudbury’s Laurentian Voyageurs to back-to-back CIAU (U Sports) national titles (1978-79). Closed out college career as Oregon’s captain, leading Ducks to a No. 11 ranking nationally.
8 BEV BLAND (Richmond, 1970) — A first-team all-star at the 1970 provincial championships, the 5-10 shooting guard would later lead Canada in scoring at the 1976 Olympics in Montreal.
10 CAROL TURNEY (Chilliwack, 1974) — A prolific 5-foot-10 guard and two-time B.C. high school all-star (1973-74) she lit up the Canadian university women’s basketball world to the tune of 21.1 ppg. Led both UBC and Victoria to national titles, competed for Canada in 1976 Olympics and 1979 world championships.
12 RUTH HAMBLIN (Houston Christian, 2012) — The 6-foot-6 centre led Houston Christian to back-to-back B.C. high school championships before embarking on a Pac 12 career at Oregon State where she set the conference’s blocked shot record. Selected 18th overall in 2016 WNBA draft and continues to play professionally.
14 MICHELLE HENDRY (Caledonia, 1987) — A first-team all-star at the 1987 B.C. championships, the Terrace native was named top-tiered MVP in 1988 despite the fact her Kermodes did not finish in the top three. Later starred as the frontcourt centrepiece of Simon Fraser’s NAIA powerhouse under Allison McNeill. Played for Canada at the 2000 Olympics.
16 ERIN CARSON (Abbotsford, 1984) — A two-time first-team all-star, Carson led the Panthers to back-to-back top-tiered B.C. title-game appearances including a championship in her senior year, before later captaining the first NCAA tournament team at the University of Colorado in 1988.
18 TAYA HANSON (Kelowna, 2018) — In her senior year earned tournament MVP honours in leading the Owls to their first-ever provincial title. Just coming off her junior season in the Pac 12 at Arizona State.
20 ERIN CHAMBERS (Heritage Park, 2011) — A senior varsity fixture for all five of her high school seasons, defined herself as one of the most versatile players in provincial history. In 2015, her senior year at Simon Fraser, set the all-time single-GNAC scoring record at 23.5 ppg.
22 LOUISE FORSYTH (Brookswood, 2017) — A five-year player with the Bobcats, the talented, thrice-ringed Forsyth may have appeared in more championship-round games at the provincial tourney than any player in B.C. history. Currently in her senior year with the Gonzaga Bulldogs.
24 TAVIA ROWELL (Walnut Grove, 2019) — A two-time first team all-star at the B.C. championships, played with a heart-and-soul demeanour that inspired her teammates to a pair of championship finals appearances. Currently playing collegiately at Grand Canyon State.
26 EMMA WOLFRAM (South Kamloops, 2013) — Played as a dominant a three-year stretch as any front-court player in tournament history, not only winning back-to-back MVPs in the Titans two championship runs, but also winning three straight Most Outstanding Defensive Player awards before playing collegiately at Gonzaga.
28 KRIS YOUNG (Handsworth, 2010) — Graceful scorer, the swing forward led North Van’s Royals to back-to-back B.C. AAA titles, and was named tournament MVP as a senior in 2010. As mentioned, UBC’s all-time Canada West regular season points leader. The all-time UBC scoring record is held by fellow Handsworth player Erica McGuinness.
30 DIANA LEE (Handsworth, 2010) — Rain the point guard position to perfection as part of Handsworth’s back-to-back B.C. titles. Teamming with Young, Lee was named the 2009 tourney MVP before embarking on a career at Boise State, and later, at UBC.
32 ASHLEY BURKE (Argyle, 2002) — A two-time Triple A provincial all-star pick, Burke was a tremendous all-round high school player who took her game to a new level at Gonzaga where by her junior year, she had become just the ninth Zag to reach 1,000 points.
34 LEANNE EVANS (Port Moody, 2004) — A first team Triple A all-star in 2004, she was the definition of a rebounder’s rebounder. Later played at UBC.
36 TARA WALLACK(Semiahmoo, 2021) — She was the star attraction in the last girls high school game played in B.C., scoring 29 points and grabbing 23 rebounds in the Totems’ 2020 B.C. title win over Terry Fox. Brings a unique package of power and finesse to Pac 12 Washington State next season.
38 KELSEY ADRIAN (Brookswood, 2006) — A three-time B.C. AAA champion at Brookswood, the 6-foot-1 Adrian was a Grade 11 when she was named MVP in 2006. Played collegiately with both Cal and UC Santa Barbara,
40 SUSAN EWANICK (Vanderhoof, 1984) — A scoring machine without equal in her era, Ewanick led her Vanderhoof Viqueens to two B.C. Single-A titles (1983-84) and was also a two-time MVP before later playing at Simon Fraser.
Earlier this week, I reminded Bruce Langford that if people get upset with this list it’s all right, because at least girls high school basketball is being discussed.
“I agree, it’s not being talked about nearly enough, and you know what you should put at the end of your article?” added Langford. “The thing that would most make my day is that the comment box below, where they could all write ‘How could you miss so and so!’ But tell them it’s one thing to give their opinion… they need to also tell you their reasons why.”
So loyal readers of Varsity Letters, please feel free to speak your mind in the comment box below. I will refresh it on a regular basis for all to see.
Girls high school basketball will be all the better for it.
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