The Wild Card

by | May 3, 2022 | Sports

Eight and eight. This is how we finished our regular season. Eight wins and eight loses. I’m not sure there was a single soul that thought we would make it to Nationals. Quite frankly, we spent most of our time worrying about whether we’d make it through playoffs let alone make it to provincials.

Once we hit the second round of playoffs, the dynamic shifted. We wanted to win.

A five-hour bus ride up to where? Keyano College? A team that we had lost to three times prior? That in itself seemed like a sprint up Everest. 

It turns out that when you play like there’s nothing to lose, you play well. Fifty-nine to forty-nine. The dagger was put in. The second-best team in the league had been defeated. I can only speak on my behalf, but that win felt like the biggest accomplishment of the season so far. That was when the Cinderella Story began. 

That win sent us to provincials. All we had to do at that point was win our first game, and we would punch our ticket to Nationals. Easier said than done. Playing a team that was fifteen and one sounded extremely daunting at the time, but everyone could taste Nationals. It was in the palm of our hands to make the decision to come together as a team to beat the best team in the South, St. Mary’s. Sixty-seven to sixty. Another win under our belts and a guaranteed spot at Nationals.

The next day we took a hard loss to the home team, the Lakeland Rustlers, in the provincial finals. But knowing how resilient our group was gave us more ammunition to practice harder. Regardless, the Wild Card’s were on their way to Nationals. Nanaimo B.C. here we come.

It was my first time experiencing the ocean and I immediately fell in love. The sound, the movement, the smell–everything about it gave me peace. Personally, I think the ocean gave us good luck. I don’t really know how it did, but I’ll just continue to believe that. 

Our first game was against the Champlain Cavaliers from Quebec. Everyone was excited to play a new team. We had no expectations going into the game, and to be quite honest, no one expected us to win. We were already shown a lot of disrespect from the moment we made it to Nationals. Our ‘Congratulations’ post from the host school, VIU, said that we were from Calgary. The pamphlets with our roster in them had everyone’s years wrong. Apparently, I was a fifth-year athlete. Aphia’s name was misspelt and the broadcast team never asked how to pronounce our names. 

Sixty-seven to fifty-five. We officially had our first win at Nationals. This wasn’t just a free vacation anymore. We were there for gold. 

Next up, the semi-finals against the MSVU Mystics. We had to win this one. We didn’t want to have to play Lakeland for a bronze medal if we lost this game. That would be the death of us. So as a collective, we decided to kick some Halifax ass. 

As soon as the buzzer went off, we made history. Eighty-four to seventy-two. Gold medal match here we come. In the history of the women’s basketball program at NAIT, there has never been a team that had made it to the finals at Nationals. That in itself made the trip worth it. Who would’ve guessed that the Wild Card team would make it this far?

That night our team sat in Kat and Aliyah’s hotel room watching the VIU Mariners versus Dawson Blues game. This would determine who we played in the final match-up. Everyone on our team was hoping that Dawson would win. We didn’t want to go up against the host team in their own gym with hundreds of fans that would be ‘booing’ us. With our luck, Dawson lost by four. Next thing you know we get a text from Coach saying, “Get your game faces on girls, we play VIU.” 

The final day of Nationals was the last game day six of our fourteen girls would ever have. The last game Todd Warnick would ever coach as an Ook. The biggest game of the season. This was the day to prove that being a Wild Card wasn’t an underdog term but a word that other teams should fear. The gym was electric. We couldn’t hear each other talk during warm-up because the student section was counting all of our missed shots at the top of their lungs. It was the first time we had ever experienced anything of this magnitude before. 

I don’t think I spent a single minute of that game not wanting to throw up. That might be a bit too much information, but I think that sums up every player on the team too. The game was fairly close the whole time. Players were making shots they hadn’t hit all weekend. Everyone was stepping it up. No one could’ve asked for a better final game. 

When we looked into the stands, we had Lakeland cheering us on after their bronze medal win and the small section of all the families that had flown out to watch us. Money well spent if you ask me. 

The fourth quarter finished with a score of sixty-five to sixty-five. We were off to overtime. Throughout the whole season, Todd kept saying, “If we had an extra five minutes we would’ve beaten them,” so he finally got his wish. Five more minutes. Five minutes to beat the host team on their home court. Five more minutes to become the first women’s team at NAIT to win gold. Five minutes to make history.

Everyone on our bench was holding hands. My leg physically could not stop shaking. I had tears running down my face. Some tears were because of the stress and others were because I’ve never wanted to win more in my life. 

The final buzzer goes off. We sprint onto the court. Hugs are flying everywhere, tears of joy are streaming down faces and our cheering section in the bleachers could not be louder. Seventy-six to seventy-one. We just won Nationals. 

I’ve held gold medals before, but just your basic gold medals from winning mini-tournaments and from Timbits soccer. Nothing quite like this. I don’t think it had sunk in yet that we had won. I know there were a few girls that kept saying “I just keep waiting for them to come take this away from us.” But no one ever came to take it away. 

This team deserves the world and now they have made history in it. From Wild Card to National Champs. Who would have guessed it?

COVER PHOTO by NAIT Athletics. Other photos supplied.

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