Sherri Pierce, Varsity Blues women’s basketball captain, starting point guard, and former OUA all-star, is the first to admit that her story is an unlikely one.
“Who would have thought?” she says of her career with the Blues, which comes to an end this season. “I was a walk-on, I just tried out; I was number 15 on the roster, so I had to work my way up.”
Pierce, a fifth-year student who graduates this year with a degree in ethics, society, and law, wasn’t planning to try out for the team when she decided to attend the University of Toronto.
“Coming to U of T was an academic decision… One of my friends that played club basketball with me was a recruit here, so she was like, ‘just come try out with me,’ so I did. I decided maybe a week before school started to try out.”
Varsity Blues women’s basketball head coach Michèle Bélanger saw enough to add her to the squad. “Sherri had great speed, great energy, and was extremely coachable. She really wanted to be a member of the team.”
As the only rookie who hadn’t been recruited out of high school by the Blues, Pierce didn’t see many minutes. Although she wasn’t a big contributor, the Blues’ trip to the CIS championships that year had a big impact. “It was something that I’ve just wanted again ever since — being able to play on that big stage in front of all of those people.”
The following season didn’t start well for Pierce. “I had an accident right before my second year started, so I had to sit out most of preseason,” she explains. “That’s when the players can show Michèle what they can do, so she can see where they can fit in. I missed that.”
But the Blues reached the CIS championships again, and with an average of just over 12 minutes per game, Pierce felt as though she had made more of a contribution.
In her third season as a Blue, Pierce started to get some major playing time. “There was a little battle at the beginning of the year for that starter position, through pre-season. [Bélanger] made a decision that I would start and that was quite an honour.
“It was also a really good confidence builder. I think that was when I started to change as a player, to understand the game a little better.”
That season, Pierce also became the youngest of the team’s three captains. The team failed to match Pierce’s individual success, though, with the Blues finishing sixth in the OUA East.
“It was pretty disappointing, not making it back to nationals. I thought we had a really strong team that year and it was my first year as a captain.”
After some hard work in the off-season, Pierce’s productivity increased in her fourth year, and she helped the team get back to the CIS championships, where they finished sixth.
This season, Pierce’s last, has been her most successful, with 11 points and 3.9 rebounds per game in the regular season. Pierce also captained the team for a third year, sharing the title with fellow fifth-years Joanna Medri and Megan Stoncius.
“I’m trying to leave a mark so that [the younger players] know that this is going to be them one day, to play every game like it’s your last, to show the young girls how important it is to truly be dedicated. It’s been a crazy year, a lot of ups and downs, but overall I’m pretty happy with where we are now.
“I think we’re peaking at the right time; I’m super-excited for next week and the week after when playoffs start. I guess we’ll see what happens.”
Although Pierce’s time on the team is coming to an end, she isn’t ready to say goodbye to the Blues just yet. “I hope to be around next year, helping [Bélanger] do some of the coaching, helping her with practices, and learning what I can from her. Hopefully I can be a coach in the future.”
Pierce hopes to work with troubled youth as a social worker, and her passion for both children and basketball is evident as she recalls her experience as an OUA all-star.
“We had to run a clinic for some younger kids. We taught them shooting, dribbling, passing, layups. That was probably the most fun part of the day, better than the [all-star] game.”
Pierce knows what she’ll miss most about being on the team. “The camaraderie. I’ll miss [the other players’] individual personalities. I’ll miss the travelling, the road trips, the jokes — not AM practices though, definitely not AM practices.”
Coach Bélanger is proud of her player’s success.
“As a coach, you always wish greatness from all your players and Sherri embraced all of it; she is a product of her determination and hard work, as well as her belief in herself. Sherri is the one that sets the tone for others to follow, she sets the pace of the defensive and offensive game. She will be missed by all on the courts.”
Pierce admits that her journey from walk-on to captain was unlikely. “I think it all started with Michèle taking a leap of faith. She took 15 girls that year, didn’t know anything about me … and helped me become the player I am today. I guess I just have to thank her for that.
“I wouldn’t be here if she hadn’t seen some sort of potential in me, and I’m glad that I was able to live up to her expectations and help lead her team, hopefully to a national championship this year.”
The Blues season ultimately came to an end Saturday, as the team fell 62–84 to the Carleton Ravens in the OUA East semi-finals, just a week after a career-high 27 point performance from Pierce against the Ottawa Gee-Gees in the quarter-final round.
Despite that disappointing conclusion, Pierce, ever a strong voice of leadership and encouragement, will surely have reminded the team that their season — just like Pierce’s career as a member of the Varsity Blues — is something to be proud of.