BURNABY — If they ever get around to presenting an award for the best-conditioned athlete in all of B.C. high school basketball, they can throw the trophy in the back seat and take it straight over to the campus of Burnaby’s St. Thomas More Collegiate.
“We have a saying at our practices, and it’s ‘Try to catch Kate,’” begins Knights’ co-coach Jen Farano of the team’s high-motor Grade 11 guard Kate Stewart-Barnett, who as one of the top multi-sport athletes in the B.C. high school sports world, has so naturally transferred the tenacious traits of a nationally-regarded middle-distance running career to the local hardcourt as a starter for B.C. Double-A No. 3-ranked St. Thomas More Knights.
“She is such a gifted athlete and an absolute workhorse,” continues Farano. “When we run lines, not only is she first, but by the length of the gym and more.”
Of course she’s about a whole lot more than her straight-line speed, yet if you happen to catch the Knights in action come Friday (4:15 p.m.) against North Vancouver’s No. 9-ranked Seycove Seyhawks in the opening round of the annual Double-A classic 26th Street Tournament at Vancouver’s York House School, it’s the easiest way to spot her.
“I have been playing basketball since I have been really young, but track is my main sport,” admits the 5-foot-8 Stewart-Barnett, who is coming off an impressive trio of finishes as a runner over the past eight months.
Last June, as a Grade 10, Stewart-Barnett won the junior 2K steeplechase at the B.C. High School Track and Field Championships in Kelowna.
In early July, representing both Canada and the Royal City Track and Field Club, Stewart-Barnett forged gold in the U-18 2K steeplechase.
Then, in November, competing as a senior varsity athlete, she placed third at the B.C. High School Cross-Country championships.
“I started running when I was five or six, at (New Westminster’s) Tweedsmuir Elementary because they had a program there for preschool and Grade 1’s,” remembers Stewart-Barnett. “The steeplechase is my main event, and all of the other distance events I do are to help me train for that.”
When you think of it that way, then perhaps embracing the blue-collar aspects of basketball, as Stewart-Barnett so enthusiastically does, is also great training for her main event on the track.
Ask Farano about her, and how could the response not centre around all the ways in which a gritty harrier and steeplechaser has brought the best of her running world to the Knights’ line-up this season.
“As a basketball player, she is our best on-ball defender,” says Farano, who coaches the team with Winston Brown and David Kazun. “We put her on the best and the fastest player on the other team and she wreaks havoc.
“No one can round a corner on Kate,” Farano continues. “The only way to get open is to try and set multiple screens. She will get to a spot first, make you cross over, make you turn. And she is also one of our leading rebounders.”
The humble Stewart-Barnett embraces the team atmosphere of basketball, including an acute awareness that any time she needs extra motivation in practices or games, she need look no further than her own teammates.
And for the underclassman Stewart-Barnett, that starts with three of her Grade 12 teammates.
STM starting point guard Cassiel Penalosa, who begins her U Sports career next season in the OUA at Queen’s University, has been a true guiding light.
“She is so committed to the game, always putting in 110 per cent, and so it’s been so nice to be able to look up to someone so dedicated,” Stewart-Barnett explains.
There’s also Grade 12 twins Gigi Gaspar and Bella Gaspar, both starters, and both set to pursue their primary sports as lacrosse players next season at Arizona State University.
“The twins bring such a positive environment, and it’s so impressive to see how they find time to do all of the things that they do,” added Stewart-Barnett, who is joined in her team’s starting five by fellow Grade 11 Tatiana Yau.
Of course, like the Gaspars and Penalosa, Stewart-Barnett is working hard for a collegiate career as a student-athlete.
“That would be the ultimate for me, to keep running at post-secondary,” admits Stewart-Barnett, who has still not heard her true career calling, but feels it might be science-based.
Until then, she’ll just keep doing what she does, and unbeknownst to her, continue to inspire others through her example, including adults like Farano.
“In the open floor, she is a gazelle and if she gets the ball, she just glides to the hoop,” the coach begins. “But Kate is such a selfless player. She is just the most unassuming, quiet and fun player. Her teammates love her because she’s hilarious and she has no ego.”
And so with those practice-session chants of ‘Try to catch Kate’, she’s just the kind of player you want when your goal is to make a run to the B.C. championship title on Feb. 29 at the Langley Events Centre.
26TH STREET TOURNEY
St. Thomas More is one of five teams ranked in the most recent B.C. Double A pool to take part in the 26th Street Kahunaverse Cup 2020, which also includes the Triple A No. 4-ranked McMath Wildcats of Richmond.
Here’s a look at Friday’s opening draw:
12:45 p.m. — No. 6 York House vs. Hugh Boyd
2:30 p.m. — Little Flower Academy vs. R.A. McMath
4:15 p.m. — No. 3 St. Thomas More vs. No. 9 Seycove
6 p.m. — No. 5 Pacific Christian vs. No. 7 Southridge
The Game 1 and 4 winners (at York House), and the Game 2 and 3 (at Little Flower) winners, face each other in 10:45 a.m. semifinals on Saturday.
Placing games continue at York House from 12:30 p.m., leading to a 4 p.m. championship final.
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