Trinity Western’s terrific trio of Kayla Gordon (left to right), Jessie Brown and Tessa Ratzlaff. Gordon and Brown have surpassed the 1,000 point plateau for their careers while Ratzlaff is on the verge of passing the milestone, needing just 10 more points. Gary Ahuja Langley Times

TWU trio taking Spartans to new heights

Langley’s Jessie Brown, Aldergrove’s Tessa Ratzlaff and Prince George’s Kayla Gordon have been central figures for Spartans women’s basketball program

For a soon-to-be accountant, one would expect Kayla Gordon to keep better track of numbers.

The fifth-year forward with the Trinity Western Spartans women’s basketball program already has a job lined up after graduation with Deloitte, securing full-time work after doing an internship last summer with the Langley accounting firm.

But when asked what it felt like to crack the 1,000 points scored plateau for her TWU career, Gordon seemed oblivious to the fact.

“I didn’t even know they kept track of that,” she admitted.

And ever the team player, Gordon was more interested in the fact the Spartans are winning — after splitting their weekend series with the Calgary Dinos, TWU sits third in Canada West at 11-3. The Spartans won 88-76 on Friday before Calgary took the rematch 84-52 the following evening. Both games were at the Langley Events Centre.

Gordon has 1,065 points for her career, putting her second all-time in the TWU record books, trailing only Holly Strom’s 1,112 points. Averaging 13.5 points per game — as well as a team-high 9.6 rebounds, good for fifth in the conference — Gordon has a great shot of leaving TWU as the program’s all-time leading scorer.

Of course, her stay atop the record book is likely to be a short one as two of Gordon’s teammates are in hot pursuit.

Jessie Brown surpassed the milestone on Friday and now has 1,008 points, while Tessa Ratzlaff pulled closer to the plateau with a combined 40 points. She now has 990 for her career. Both Brown and Ratzlaff have one more season of eligibility.

Together, the trio has played a big role in turning around a program which last year posted its first-ever winning season in its 18-year history at the Canada West level.

“(The 1,000-point milestone) just shows how hard they have all been working over the last several years,” said Cheryl Jean-Paul, who is in her eighth season as head coach.

“I think one of the reasons our program has been able to take these strides moving forward is because all three of them continued to find ways to be competitive.

“I think they have done a great job of working hard in the off-season to keep adding tools to their game.”

Gordon joined the team five seasons ago with Brown and Ratzlaff donning the Spartan colours the following season.

The players knew they were joining a program with nowhere to go but up.

While Brown (Langley) and Ratzlaff (Aldergrove) were able to stay close to home for their university basketball, Gordon was recruited out of Prince George’s Cedars Christian.

A gymnast growing up until just before elementary school when a huge growth spurt, Gordon focused specifically on basketball through high school. And after spending a couple of summers with the provincial team, she caught Jean-Paul’s attention.

“As a university coach, this showed that this was someone who was committed to improving herself as a basketball player,” the coach explained about a teenager willing to spend their summers away from home — the provincial teams uses the Langley Events Centre as their base — in order to focus in growing their game.

“Those were some of the intrinsic qualities she was already demonstrating at an early age.”

Gordon wanted to play post-secondary basketball but figured she would do so in Prince George, to cut down on her university costs.

“(Cheryl) explained to me her vision (for the program) and the role I could play and it just captured me right there,” she said.

“For a program that needed to change its culture. It was nice to have someone who wanted to be part of that,” Jean-Paul said. “She is one of those players who wants to go somewhere where she can make a difference, she can be a part of changing things. (She could) be a significant piece of what we were doing from her early years.”

The Spartans won five games out of 22 in Gordon’s first season, but by the second half of the season, her development was accelerated when she found herself in the starting line-up after another player came down with mono.

Gordon has been a fixture in the starting five ever since.

The following year saw the arrival of Brown and Ratzlaff.

“Jessie and Tessa have just brought another level of everything to our program. Two fairly high profile athletes that came to a program that was unproven and they just really had to learn a lot of hard lessons in their early years,” Jean-Paul said.

Ratzlaff grew up in Aldergrove and attended Abbotsford’s MEI Secondary.

She was the key scorer on an Eagles squad which finished fifth in the highest tier at the provincial championships her Grade 12 season. Winning that title was Brown and the Brookswood Bobcats.

With the two new high profile recruits in the line-up, the Spartans took a small step back, going from five wins in 22 games to four victories in 20 conference matches.

Brown joined the starting line-up in the latter half of that season and Ratzlaff joined Gordon and Brown in the starting five at the start of the following year.

TWU went 8-12 in 2015/16 and made the post-season, winning a playoff game for the first time in program history. Last year was even better with a 12-8 mark as well as both hosting and winning a playoff series.

“It really has been the three of them and our program growing together,” Jean-Paul said.

But it hasn’t been easy.

Brookswood basketball is one of the elite programs in the province and Jean-Paul remembers Brown approaching her after the first season and how she didn’t even think she had lost a combined 16 games during her high school career.

“It was really a hard adjustment … winning only four games,” admits the shooting guard, who is third on the team with 12.9 points.

“I knew it would not be an overnight thing but it was definitely disheartening to put in all that time and effort and not see any results immediately.

“It was a good learning experience.”

Ratzlaff, who leads the team with 17.5 points per game, said she knew it wouldn’t be a quick fix when she arrived at TWU.

“I thought we could totally turn this program around and I was confident we could make a difference and that is what has happened,” she said. “It is really neat to see how hard we have worked and how far we have come. We just kept at it and it has really been rewarding.”

“It is cool to see that if you work hard, you can attain the goals you have made it,” she added.

Ask the players, and all three say the fact the Spartans have four players averaging double digits — third-year guard Sarah Buckingham is averaging 9.9 points per game — makes the team that much tougher a match-up.

The trio have played a crucial role in establishing a new culture for the program.

“You can’t go from being a 3-21 team seven or eight years to now being a team that hasn’t lost a game at home yet without having leaders who refuse to lose and refuse to say we are not going to accept our loss,” Jean-Paul said.

“I find it has been really easy to get the group moving in the same direction when you have someone like (these three) who has always been willing to take the first step towards that.”

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Kayla Gordon sits second on the TWU all-time scoring list. Scott Stewart TWU Athletics photo

Trinity Western’s Jessie Brown. Scott Stewart TWU Athletics photo

Trinity Western’s Tessa Ratzlaff. Scott Stewart TWU Athletics photo

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