American guard Aleah Bridges takes a jump shot during the Bobcats pre-season tournament on Saturday at BU. (CHRIS JASTER/BRANDON SUN)
The Brandon University Bobcats women’s basketball team hopes Aleah Bridges can help them find their way into the win column this season, and while she will do everything she can, no one could blame her if she lost her focus from time to time.
The 24-year-old American import, who joins the Bobcats starting lineup after redshirting the second semester last season, admits the Bobcats aren’t her primary focus. Instead her priorities are family and schooling, and for good reason.
The 5-foot-3 point guard has made one of the biggest sacrifices anyone could ask for this season by leaving her five-year-old daughter, Ge’Niah, with her mother in California so that she can pursue a degree and play for BU. Leaving Ge’Niah behind was one of the toughest decisions Bridges has ever had to make, but she knows it’s the right decision so she can provide a better future for her daughter after she graduates.
"I have my moments where I want to drop everything and go home because being a mother is first," said Bridges, who is studying physical education and minoring in psychology with the goal of becoming a personal trainer or a coach. "It’s hard. It’s very hard, but I just have to think about my goal and I have a wonderful teammate in Cassie (Cooke). She helps me keep my head in it and tells me I’m doing it for the right reasons. Just talking to my teammates and talking to my daughter helps a lot."
The life of a student-athlete isn’t easy as players have to balance classes, homework, practices, travel schedules and games. Bridges, however, makes sure she has time every day so she can talk to her daughter and mom back in California using FaceTime.
Bridges’ teammates know about her situation, and how hard it is for her, and they all have a lot of respect for what she’s doing.
"It’s the ultimate sacrifice," Bobcats head coach Novell Thomas said. "You see it with a lot of people from Asian countries coming to North America to better their life and their children’s lives. That’s what she’s doing and nobody will ever know what it feels like. It’s huge from a character standpoint. It says a lot about what her goals are for her future and her daughter’s future."
Bridges, who is from Berkeley, Calif., is the first import to commit to the Bobcats since Thomas took over the team last year and she has stepped up to become one of the team leaders. That was kind of expected as she runs the floor from the point, but Bridges is always studying the game with great intensity, regardless of whether she’s on the floor or not.
Even when she’s on the bench, Bridges can be seen standing, watching the game and barking out instructions. She doesn’t like to sit as she believes that takes her out of the game. Even though she’s new to the Bobcats, the third-year transfer from California’s Contra Costa College feels right at home as a leader.
"It’s doesn’t feel weird at all," she said. "I’m confident as a point guard and I’m confident in my team, so we all play together. It’s not like this is my first year. We had chemistry really quick."
Bridges hopes to improve the Bobcats’ play in transition and help the team cut down the turnover issue that has plagued them during their 67-game Canada West conference losing streak.
Thomas likes the energy and experience that she brings to the team and knows she will be a valuable part of the Bobcats this season.
"She brings a lot of the intangibles and a lot of the things that we’ve been missing from our team," Thomas said. "Last year when she joined us in January, just her being vocal and having the experience and being able to communicate what she sees ... the other players value that because they know she has the experience.
"She brings a lot of different things to the table. She makes everybody laugh when times are tense, she breaks that tension. We love having her."
Bridges can’t wait to start the regular season. She’s relishing playing basketball again, and the only thing that would make it better would be to have her daughter in Brandon. However, she knows she couldn’t balance her life if that was the case.
"I wouldn’t be able to focus if she was here, but it’s worth it," Bridges said.
Republished from the Brandon Sun print edition October 8, 2013