Gifted Kennedy a wizard on the court

By Don Fennell

Published 3:01 PST, Fri November 22, 2019

Last Updated: 2:13 PDT, Wed May 12, 2021

Liz Kennedy is a huge Harry Potter fan. And like the young wizard in J.K. Rowling’s fantasy novels, she’s a magician.

Only her mastery is displayed on the basketball court. 

And just as Harry Potter is seen as a cornerstone of young adult literature, Kennedy is at the heart of a McMath Wildcats’ team determined to write its own best seller this season.

Set to begin her fifth season in the Richmond Secondary Schools’ senior girls’ league—a rare feat indeed—Kennedy and her McMath teammates will tip off the 2019-20 season ranked No. 1 provincially. Their first game is scheduled for 3:10 p.m. Monday versus York House.

To appreciate why Kennedy is the reigning league MVP is to also know her talent and resolve.

“The fact the most important thing is hard work, and that results are noticeable when you put the time in, has always appealed to me, “ she says.

Renowned for her relentless hustle, Kennedy never tires of trying to improve her game. She appreciates the importance of being a well-rounded player and not just good at one aspect.

“In Grade 6, I attended a Basketball BC Christmas camp and it was the first time I played with some of the best players in the province,” she explains. “I remember it being really fun to compete at such a high level. It also showed me that there were a lot of talented female players out there my age, so I was definitely inspired to work on my game after that. I also met one of my closet friends for the first time, who I have played club basketball with every summer since.”

But Kennedy, who tutors in math and enjoys cooking, also appreciated that when she was younger, basketball didn't consume her.

Benefits of playing multiple sports

“I've always loved to play a lot of different sports, however when I started to play basketball I enjoyed both the physical component and the team aspect,” she says, certain speed and footwork she learned through volleyball and field hockey, and even the recovery component of swimming, have helped make her a better player.

“I think through my time at McMath I have been able to see the bigger picture,” Kennedy explains. “By the time I graduate I will have been a part of 24 different McMath sports teams. This has taught me how to work well with others, and to understand what it means to be a part of a community. And by getting involved in coaching, I have gained a new understanding of how much details matter. That's really helped me see the game in a new way.”

She hopes to lean on her multiple experiences, both in basketball and other sports, to help lift the Wildcats to its ultimate their goal—a B.C. title. She believes how far they go is really up to them.

“A lot of us played all summer and everyone has gotten better. Since eight of us have played together before, we know each other really well and we have two really great additions. Ultimately, we just get along really well and are always ready to push each other to get better at practice. Caitlin Bradley-Tse, my fellow Grade 12, and I have put a lot of time and a lot of heart into this program. We are ready to make our senior season memorable and I know the whole team is on board.”

Grateful for great mentors 

Kennedy, whose favourite player is American star Sue Bird (she’s also a big fan of Canadian Kia Nurse, who she met at WNBA game last summer), clearly remembers her first scrimmage at McMath as a Grade 8 student.

“I went to (get the ball and) I got knocked over by Jess Zawada. The next time down the floor, I pushed back. I haven’t looked back since. Being part of that team definitely connected me to McMath in a big way. Since then, I've been able to qualify for and participate in numerous provincial championships in five different sports. There is something really special about all high school provincials, basketball especially, so making it back to the LEC (Langley Events Centre, which hosts the annual provincial championships) one more time is a big goal for me.”

Kennedy stresses she’s been fortunate to have good role models.

“Coming into the senior program so young, I've been lucky to have so many great mentors. Notably, both Jessica Jones and Zawada left a really great legacy in the program. I always looked up to Jones because she always—did and still does—put 110 per cent into everything she does. I always thought she did a great job of setting her teammates up for success. Zawada was one of the first people to welcome me into the senior team and she always pushed me to be better. She was always willing to outwork her check to get rebounds and always doing what was best for the team. That hasn't changed.”

Inspired by them, Kennedy is focused on being a consistent shooter and having the endurance to maintain a high level of play throughout each game, especially those later in the season. Leading by her actions, Kennedy is also not afraid to use her voice to communicate during games. Off the court, she also tries to inspire everyone to constantly put their best effort forth while expecting the same of herself.

Veteran coach lauds character

Veteran bench boss Anne Gillrie-Carre, co-coach of the Wildcats, first met Kennedy while the latter was attending a rigorous training program targeted for the senior girls at McMath. She was in Grade 8.

“I was struck by the confidence and unbelievable drive to push herself to the limit. After a number of sessions, and a few open gyms, it was clear that she was ready to compete on the senior girls team. I have now had the honour of coaching Liz for the last five years. She is a serious student of the game, who understands and demonstrates what it takes to be an elite basketball player. She is extremely coachable and thrives on competing and excelling. She plays incredibly hard at both ends of the court. She is a relentless defender, a great playmaker, and a threat inside and out on offence.”

Further, Gillrie-Carre says of Kennedy, “her pursuit of a rebound is astonishing and her repertoire of post moves are a joy to watch. In my 44 years of coaching, I have coached some of the top players in the province. Liz is one of those special players that has demonstrated the all-round athletic and personal skills and character required to help self and others to be successful. She has a tenacious drive, an extremely high level of commitment, passion, goals and a huge heart. “

Kennedy is grateful to have been coached by such a knowledgeable and supportive coaching staff that features both Gillrie-Carre and her dad, Chris.

“Being able to share this journey with my dad for the past few years has been very special. I’m lucky we have such a good relationship on and off the court,” she says.

While she’s unsure exactly what the future holds, Kennedy knows basketball will be part of it—playing and coaching. She’s also fascinated by the inner workings of big corporations, so perhaps a career in business is also on the horizon.

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