Jessica Renfrew is team-first and there’s no other way about it.
The selfless basketball player has hit a new level this year as a regular starter for the UVic Vikes.
On Tuesday the 20-year-old was named Canada West’s Athlete of the Week for all sports, having helped the Vikes to a pair of road wins. Renfrew scored 21 points in the Vikes’ 72-51 win over the Winnipeg Wesmen and 23 points in a 79-62 win over the Manitoba Bisons on Friday and Saturday to win the award.
It’s all part of the Renfrew’s arrival as an all-star calibre player in the CIS.
“She won’t see it that way,” said Vikes coach Dani Sinclair.
“Renfrew just wants what’s best for the team. She’s very unselfish. Nobody works harder than her. She’s in the gym every single day, even in the summer, and it’s not for personal accolades, but because she wants the team to succeed.”
“I can’t remember any award that is as honouring as this one,” Renfrew said. “There are a lot of great basketball players in my league and my teammates have been super congratulatory (about Athlete of the Week), but it’s only because of our team success. I couldn’t have done it without the support of the team.”
It might sound cliché, but only to a point.
Before Renfrew joined the Vikes she was named Claremont secondary’s high school athlete of the year for her contributions to the provincial champion soccer team and basketball team that made the final-four. Only thing is, she’s not exactly sure which year she won it.
“Grade 11, I think.”
Renfrew’s now in her third season with the Vikes and is part of a core of younger players with fellow third-year Cassandra Goodis who bring promise to the rest of this season, and beyond.
Already Renfrew has seen the Vikes shift through major adversity. Her first year under former coach Brian Cheng was “a huge learning curve” playing behind CIS MVP Kayla Dykstra and veteran Vanessa Forstbauer. Then came the surprise second half to her rookie year, when injuries ended Dykstra’s and Forstbauer’s seasons, which led to regular floor time for Renfrew.
Then came the Vikes’ rebuild last season under new head coach Rich Chambers (currently on leave).
“I played a lot, and started, but it didn’t go as well as we’d hoped,” Renfrew said.
During those years Renfrew and Sinclair furthere cemented their relationship, one that started back in 2004 when Sinclair was the assistant coach on the 2004 B.C. Summer Games girls basketball team. Renfrew and Vikes second-year guard Shaylyn Crisp, also of Claremont, was on that team.
“Even back then Renfrew showed signs of being able to play at this level,” Sinclair said.
“She and I have built a relationship over a number of years, and I joke that I’m harder on her than anyone else, and I might be, so maybe that does go back to the fact that we’ve had a coach-player relationship for so long.”
“It really started to develop this year,” said Renfrew. “With me getting older and (Sinclair) starting to understand each other better, and our desires to be better.”
Key to Renfrew’s breakout success this year are the additions she’s made to her game.
“She has a pull-up shot now, shoots three consistently, and always has run the floor very well. She’s also become a better defender, a more well-rounded player.”
Statistically, fifth-year Vikes guard Debbie Yeboah is third among scorers in the Canada West with 223 points, an average of 18.6 per game. Renfrew is 12th with with 177 points (14.8 ppg). It breaks down to 71 field goals (two-pointers) as well as 19 three-pointers, which is 13th in the league.
Point guard Goodis is the leading setup player in the Canada West with an average of 6.8 assists per game, 82 in 12 games so far.
The Vikes are now 8-4 and face a huge test Friday night against the visiting Regina Cougars (11-1), the No. 2 ranked team in the CIS.
The women play at 6 p.m. in McKinnon Gym, with the men following at 8 p.m.
“To beat Regina you have to limit your mistakes,” Sinclair said. “They make you pay if you make mistakes, so we have to be nearly perfect in our execution. Not that we have to play outside of ourselves, but take care of detail, they’re very talented and have a lot of depth. They’ve been to national championships for many years running and they know how to win.”