Heidi Smith had a fantastic final season of high school basketball and hoped it would help her continue to play in university. It certainly did.
The 5-foot-7 guard from Oak Lake has committed to join the University of Saskatchewan Huskies women’s basketball team next season, making her longtime dream of joining a CIS squad a reality.
"It’s amazing," she said. "It’s a dream come true. It’s just something I’ve always looked forward to since I started playing. It’s been a goal for the end of my high school career and I got it."
Smith capped off her high school career by being named tournament MVP as her Virden Golden Bears won the provincial AAA varsity girls’ championship as well as being chosen the AAA female player of the year by Basketball Manitoba.
The 18-year-old found success outside of the high school ranks as well, making provincial teams, including the Manitoba squad that won a bronze medal at the 2013 Canada Summer Games.
Despite all the success, Smith admits the jump from AAA high school basketball to joining the defending Canada West conference champions will be a big step, so she’s opted to redshirt next season.
"I wanted to redshirt for them," said Smith, who attended a workout session with the Huskies last month before committing. "They’re so strong right now that it’s hard to go from playing AAA basketball to going to play the highest level in the CIS.
"It’s definitely a jump. It’s obviously faster and they know more because they’ve played longer. I have a lot ahead of me. I have a lot to learn."
Smith, who will register in the Faculty of Arts and Sciences this year before switching to kinesiology next year, picked the U of S because of its basketball program and coaching. She has a lot of respect for head coach Lisa Thomaidis and is ready to work hard to prove her mettle.
With her commitment, Smith becomes the third member of the Golden Bears to join a CIS team. Natalie Vachon and Logan Biccum committed to the Brandon University Bobcats earlier in the year.
They won’t be the only familiar faces she’ll see in the CIS during the next few years as Smith knows some of her former provincial team members will also be playing in the university ranks, like Neelin’s Paige Thomson, who has signed on with the University of Victoria Vikes.
Smith is looking forward to the opportunity to play former teammates in the future, but she’s also proud of her fellow Golden Bears. Three of the five Grade 12 players from the team are going to the CIS, and she believes hard work is the reason a small school produced such a bumper crop of basketball talent this year.
"I think just our work ethic," she said. "We practised every single day all season long, sometimes twice a day, the three of us. We’re in the gym and working hard. We love to play."
NOTE: Mount Royal University and the University of Northern British Columbia were granted full membership status in Canada West this week.