LANGLEY — The past two years have left all of us with plenty of moments for deep contemplation, and for Langley Christian senior girls basketball coach Danielle Gardner, it’s meant among other things, time spent re-affirming the trust she’s always had in her own process as a coach of young women.
If you think that is too ‘deep’ to process within the annual rites of the first few Saturdays of March, where the tradition in the B.C. high school basketball world is to live and die by the final score at the provincial championships, it really isn’t.
In fact if you take Saturday as an example, you might even see a connection.
One day after No. 1-seeded Langley Christian got the winning basket it needed with 12 seconds left to beat the No. 5 St. Michael’s University Blue Jags 56-55 in a semifinal game here at the B.C. senior girls Double-A semifinals, Gardner’s Lightning were once again looking like a team tempting the 11th-hour fate of the basketball gods.
Trailing West Vancouver’s Mulgrave Titans 49-46 at the end of the third quarter of Saturday’s title clash, and unable to put together the kind of dominant streak of play it had made its trademark over an absolutely dominant pre-B.C. tournament schedule, it’s fans were undoubtedly all asking themselves the same question: Is it too much to expect (the) Lightning to strike twice?
Right about that time, however, the flood gates burst open.
The Lightning went on a game-changing 16-2 run to open the final quarter, the cascading dominoes of confidence getting stronger with every bucket until the final horn sounded and the B.C. Double-A title was theirs.
Final score: Langley Christian 70 Mulgrave 60.
So what happened to break it open?
“I think the whole game I just felt calm because it was a great game,” Gardner said. “I was just happy that we were playing well. We were getting great looks and I just kept telling them to keep going, that they were going to start to drop.
“There were a few girls in tears, there was a lot of emotion, but I just told them to trust it, that we just had to keep on working hard and we’re going to be fine.”
So with that trust and an incredible senior core led by the likes of eventual tournament MVP point guard Sydney Bradshaw, that is just what happened.
Bradshaw, the Trinity Western signee who hit the shot against SMUS on Friday which pushed her team into Saturday’s final, didn’t have her most productive day of the tourney, finishing the title game with nine points, yet her stewardship in so many areas were vital to the framework of trust that Gardner preached on Saturday.
The other two key seniors — forward Taelor Coxford (UBC) and guard Lainey Shelvey (SFU)— each added 15 points, with Shelvey grabbing 17 rebounds.
Yet as that trio, along with fellow seniors Clara Fenske and Matteya Tuininga played their final high school games, it was perhaps significant that they passed the torch to a Grade 10 whose talent found a way to flash brightest on her biggest stage yet.
The Titans both start and star four of the most talented Grade 10s in the province, and on Saturday they seemingly grew before the eyes of the large crowd on hand at the Langley Events Centre, holding their own against No. 1 and showing no signs of waning as the second half began.
Yet Gardner put her trust in a relatively-unknown 5-foot-9 Grade 10 of her own named Colette VanderHoven, with clear instructions to disrupt the opposition’s rhythm.
The results were nothing short of sensational.
“I thought (VanderHoven) came in and did a fabulous job on Ava,” said Gardner of Mulgrave’s 5-foot-11 point guard Ava Wilson, an uber talent with length, athleticism and vision. “I said to her ‘You deny her, you box out, and she went in there and she played the game of her life.”
Wilson still scored 17 points, but just four in that pivotal fourth quarter as she and her team were held to just 11 points combined over the final 10 minutes.
“She is an amazing coach,” VanderHoven said of Gardner. “She is inspiring and uplifting, and she tells us to have fun and play our best.”
Vanderhoven took that advice literally, scoring nine of her game-high 31 points in the fourth and also grabbed eight rebounds in the win.
Classy in defeat, Mulgrave head coach Claude Leduc tipped his cap to Langley Christian as he explained the growth process his team has gone through this season in adapting to the senior varsity game.
“There is a lot of opportunity to learn in defeat,” said Leduc, in many ways in the same place the Lightning were back in 2020 when they lost on a late opposition surge to East Vancouver’s Britannia Bruins in the title game. “But (Langley Christian) was a great team. They battled hard and they wanted it, and at the end they got physical when they needed to get physical, and our (Grade 10) girls are learning about that physicality. But I am proud of all my players. I feel for my seniors. But we battled.”
Mulgrave point guard Jenna Talib, a pure shooter, hit six treys and finished with 18 points, and Eva Ruse, the 6-foot-2 player who many project as one of the very best in the entire province regardless of tier in 2022-23, had 16 points and 22 rebounds.
“You’ve got to be good to be good, but you’ve also got to stay healthy and you got to be a little lucky…we didn’t get that today, but that is a good team over there,” concluded Leduc.
Yes, on Saturday, the Lighting were the seniors who spent the last two year preparing themselves for another Saturday title final battle.
They had lost in the 2020 championship final to Vancouver’s Britannia Bruins, then got two years to contemplate that loss.
And it was from that place which Dani Gardner found a way to find peace in the midst of Saturday’s most chaotic moments.
Yet with all of that, there was of course, time for those post-game tears of joy to flow.
In the midst of being interviewed, Gardner was suddenly hugged by someone who had come onto the floor.
It was her daughter Makenna Gardner, the star guard who back in 2020, had her high school career end the other way… with that loss in the championship game to Britannia.
In that moment on Saturday, however, the daughter, just coming off her freshman season as a point guard for Simon Fraser University, needed to come tell mom that she had done it.
The pair embraced and they wept because the moment that they had each sacrificed was finally here, regardless of whether or not Makenna had played in the game.
“It’s so special because she has been a huge part of why we are here today,” Danielle Gardner explained after taking a minute to recover.
“We fell short (in 2020), and not for a lack of trying,” she continued. “We just came up against a very good team. So today, this is so special because she has been so supportive with her texts, like ‘OK, you got this.’ Through all of this, she has been my emotional coach.”
And that was the theme on a Saturday of triumph for the Langley Christian Lightning… that nothing could be more powerful than simply trusting in each other.
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