Heather McCarthy, Alicia Grossi and Shayna Worthington came in together and they are preparing to graduate together.
The Vancouver Island University Mariners trio is entering their fifth and final year of Pacific Western Athletic Association of women's basketball play. They made up the core of head coach Bill McWhinnie's first full recruiting class, and they provided the foundation for last year's provincial championship.
Now they are two weeks away from starting their final season in Mariners' double-blue.
"It's been about a lot more than basketball, we've grown as a family," said Grossi. "Coming in as rookies you're super intimidated, but now were starting, the three of us, and it shows the progression we've made."
Coming up together cemented what will be a long-lasting friendship between the three, which included all of them being in the same Bachelor of Arts with a Phys ed major program. However, their basketball careers have all been very different.
McCarthy, 22, came to VIU after starring with the Dover Bay Dolphins, but her progression to the starting lineup has been a slow one for the five-foot-eight guard.
She spent most of her first two years stapled to the bench in a developmental role. In year three she started to work her way in as a reserve. Last year she was thrust into a much bigger role as the M's were hit with a deluge of injuries.
She took full advantage of her opportunity, averaging 9.29 points per game, 4.54 rebounds and 2.71 assists. In the playoffs she was even better, averaging 15.5 points in the PacWest championships, including 19 in their 65-55 win over the Capilano Blues in the final.
At the Canadian Colleges Athletic Association championships, she was a little up and down, but score 18 in their 68-55 quarterfinal win over Fanshawe College. "My role has evolved a lot since I was a first year. I didn't really know what to expect coming in and I didn't play a lot in the first couple of years," said McCarthy. "But I put in the work and I think this year I am more of a leader on the team. I know that's my role and I work hard to be a leader on and off the court."
Grossi, 22, has also had to battle for her floor time with the Mariners. Her first couple of seasons, she was stuck behind one of the top forwards in the conference. Last year the six-foot-five started to establish herself in a more consistent role with the club - averaging four points and 3.71 rebounds - and enters this season as the likely starter at centre.
"Confidence has a lot more to do with it," said the Vancouver product out of Point Grey Secondary. "Coming n my first year I was super intimidated, I was going up against Brittany Knievel who was one of the strongest post players at VIU and I think playing against her I've grown as a post player and I've fed through her and hope to play like her now."
Worthington, 22, has had the biggest impact on the floor since coming in four seasons ago.
She was one of the top recruits on the Island that year out of Claremont Secondary School in Victoria and has backed up her hype on the floor ever since.
As an 18-year-old freshman, she averaged 10.78 points per game and 7.83 assists, numbers she repeated as a sophomore at 10.22 points and 7.28 assists. Her third year, however, she took the jump to PacWest first team all-star as she averaged 16.13 points, 9.13 rebounds and 1.5 assists.
Her numbers dipped a little last season to 13.05 points, 6.48 rebounds and 1.52 assists, but she was at her best down the stretch as the Mariners hit their stride. For her efforts she was named an all-Canadian.
When she's on her game in the low post, the six-foot-one forward is almost unstoppable.
But she has not taken her foot off the gas pedal. If anything, winning provincials and finishing fifth at nationals has made her hungrier.
"I think everyone put in a lot more work than normal," said Worthington.
"I think they kicked up their routines in the summer and wanted to get better after you see such results when you put in the hard work" said Worthington.
It has been an up-and-down four years for the group. They have experienced heartbreak with upsets at the PacWest championships, and then the extreme high of shocking the province with their second half run last year.
"It was amazing, it put into perspective why I play, for moments like that," said Worthington. "It's something I will cherish forever and I think it's very lucky if you ever get to feel that feeling."
The importance of the three fifth-year Mariners is not lost on McWhinnie, who has continued to build on his veteran group, that also includes veterans like Erin Vekic and Jocelyn Jones, who is one of the top players in the country.
The past few years he has managed to bring in a number of other local players who may take their place starting next year, like Mariah Van Sickle and Taeler Keir out of Wellington Secondary School this year and Megan Cawthorne from Cedar Secondary School last summer.
"They're outstanding students as well," said McWhinnie, of his three fifth-year Mariners. "They're good role models for younger kids coming in and their families are very supportive of the program and the kids themselves, which has allowed them to do what they've done for the last four years."
The Mariners continue their pre-season this weekend with a tournament at Camosun College in Victoria. They open their PacWest schedule on Nov. 2 at Camosun.
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