She against the world

On women’s basketball and the uphill battle against gender discrimination

Carlo Javier // Managing Editor
Photos by Paul Yates, Vancouver Sports Pictures

Ashley Dela Cruz Yip was standing just outside of the Capilano Blues logo. Her hands were resting firmly on her waist, and her eyes locked in on their own basket. Her backcourt mate Reiko Ohama had just swished the latter of the game’s first two foul shots, putting the Blues up 1-0 against the Columbia Bible College Bearcats. It was the Blues’ final home game of the season, and getting on the scoreboard first was a nice, albeit insignificant, detail.

It was a cold February evening, and the Blues and the Bearcats couldn’t have been further away from each other. The Blues were undefeated, riding an incredible 13-game winning streak, while the Bearcats rested in the cellars of the Pacific Western Athletic Association (PACWEST) conference.

But the Bearcats weren’t exactly toothless. Fifth-year guard Mandy Van Delden was one of the PACWEST’s absolute best scorers. The 5’7 veteran averaged 15 points per game and finished the season fourth in the conference in points. She also led her team with three assists per game, complementing her scoring with dynamic playmaking.

Van Delden was the Bearcats’ number one option, and Dela Cruz Yip was about to ruin her day.

In seemingly a heartbeat, the Blues’ speedy point guard managed to move from near the half-court line to the baseline, preventing the Bearcats to inbound the ball to Van Delden. For the rest of the game, Dela Cruz Yip would shadow and effectively shut down the Bearcats’ top scorer, forcing her to miss 14 of her 19 shot attempts. For her part, Dela Cruz Yip finished with just four points, but it’s the rest of her contributions that truly makes her a great player: seven assists, five steals, a block and just two turnovers.

It takes a certain type of resolve to be a defensive stopper on the basketball court, so one can imagine what it took for Dela Cruz Yip to be considered among the best defenders in the entire PACWEST – if not the absolute best. “I think I’m known in the PACWEST for specific things,” she said. “I’m known for my defence, that’s one of my biggest strengths, and my assists.”

Dela Cruz Yip wears many hats for the Blues. She’s the starting point guard, the floor general who led the league in assists per game. If she chooses to come back next season for her fifth and final year, she can very well break the Blues assists record of 167 – she just needs 12 more. She’s their go-to defensive stopper and steals leader, the one that head coach Ramin Sadaghiani calls on to guard the opposing team’s best perimeter player. A fourth-year student-athlete, Dela Cruz Yip is also one of the team’s leaders off the court. She’s a voice of reason, and a source of wisdom.

Photo c/o Vancouver Sports Pictures

Despite the success and recognition that followed the Capilano Blues women’s basketball team this past season, Dela Cruz Yip knows that in the grand scheme of things, respect on the court, is not so easily earned by women in basketball.

“I think a lot in women’s basketball, women have to prove themselves,” she said. “[Women] have to prove that we’re at a certain level to gain respect from a male counterpart, whereas I don’t think that’s as evident [among men].” Aesthetic is one of the common arguments when discussing the difference between men and women’s basketball. Men’s games tend to be played at a faster pace and with a greater amount of improvisation, whereas women’s games are often more structured and reliant on set plays to get baskets. Both styles of play have their merits, and although structure and improvisation both exist equally in the highest level of the game, Dela Cruz Yip finds that in youth, the improvisation and freedom that men have on the court can lead to selfish and self-centred basketball.

This year, the Blues women’s team featured four players in the top 10 in scoring in the conference, illustrating how big of a factor teamwork was to their success. The idea of teamwork on the basketball court is almost representative of one of the constant variables in the waves of feminism that has developed over the past half a century: togetherness.

“When women are against women, or fighting against other women, it’s not really helping the cause,” said Dela Cruz Yip. “I feel like there has to be a team effort in order to get the recognition that we deserve, so definitely that team mentality helps with moving forward as women.”

In 2015, VICE published an article that illustrated the inequality that women face in basketball. Diana Taurasi, one of the most well-known players in the WNBA, was reported to have made the maximum salary of $107,500 for the 2013-2014 season. On the other hand, Dionte Christmas, an undrafted NBA player received the league-minimum salary of $490,180. That same year, Taurasi led the Phoenix Mercury to their third national championship, while Christmas rode the Phoenix Suns bench and played a mere 190 minutes in 31 appearances.

“There is an underrepresentation of women in sports in general, everyone who coaches women knows that,” said Dela Cruz Yip. “[Equal representation] is not seen as important and what does that say to women in sports?” she questioned. “What does that tell us, that our work ethic and all the time we put into our sport is not as recognized as men, which is a little bit disheartening, but you keep going because you love the sport, you love the game, you keep playing because it’s not about the recognition from audiences, it’s about how you feel when playing the game, it’s about how important it is to you.”

Dela Cruz Yip admits that she was lucky. From a young age, she’s had the tutelage of coaches who, to this day, still manage to impact her life in the simplest of ways. Her teammates affectionately call her “Ace”, a nickname that was given to her by the late Eric Ming, her first coach at the Strathcona Community Centre. Mitra Tshan and Mike Evans were her coaches at Britannia Secondary School, two mentors who helped make it possible for Dela Cruz Yip to pursue her passion. The two drove her to Langley so that she could try out for the Basketball BC provincial team, a team she made from U15 to U17. They even helped run fundraisers that allowed a group of girls to go to China to play basketball.

“Britannia is an inner East Side school,” Dela Cruz Yip said. “Lots of people of colour, lots of people living in the Strathcona and Ray-Cam communities, and a lot of kids that are actually on welfare, a lot of kids that don’t have a lot of money in order to do certain things.”

Although Dela Cruz Yip believes that conversations about discrimination in sports is a step forward, she does admit that it will take more than just a simple conversation to engineer real, tangible changes.

“People can try to say that equality has been achieved, and that I think is one of the most ignorant things a person can possibly say – it really isn’t true – and that comes to gender and race relations, it is not an equal society that we’re living in; we can kind of hide behind the fact that there is some representation… but it’s not equal.”

Jennafer Palma is one of Dela Cruz Yip’s long-time teammates with the Capilano Blues. The former Blues guard won a provincial title with the Blues in her rookie year in 2010-2011, and has been one of Dela Cruz Yip’s friends both on and off the court.

In 2013, Palma created the Jalma Ball Sports Club, an East Vancouver based youth sports program that provides youth with accessible and affordable camps and coaching. “Seeing something like that, community outreach, to young girls, especially young women of colour, is really amazing to see,” said Dela Cruz Yip. “That’s what it’s all about, I think, making sure girls know that they can excel; if they work hard, that they can reach the highest level of basketball they want to, if that’s their dream.”

You can see the changes as they happen at Capilano University. Since the reveal of the new school insignia last December, the administration’s marketing team has delivered a visible and conscious approach towards rebranding. The website, once dominated by a sea of blue, has undergone a minimalist makeover, opting instead for a splash of white. There are posters on buses, bus stops, and as you leave North Vancouver via the Ironworkers Memorial Bridge, you might even catch an electronic billboard showing a CapU ad.

The same is apparent on campus. A corner wall in the cafeteria is covered by a giant banner of the school’s new logo, while the railings on the second floor feature numerous posters that illustrate aspects of campus life. One of these posters features a photo of Dela Cruz Yip preparing to shoot a free throw. Above her picture is the word “proud”. It’s simple and oft-used in passing, but in the face of systemic discrimination of groups of people, sometimes simple words and gestures can mean the weight of the world.


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