Victoria native Emma Cunningham is poised to help the Blues take gold
Helen Aikenhead // Features Editor
Photo c/o Northfield Photography
With six new players donning the blue and white this year, the future of the Blues women’s basketball team is looking bright as the 2017-18 season kicks off. One of those six is veteran guard and teammate-described “lights out shooter,” Emma Cunningham. After playing for the Camosun Chargers for the first two years of her post-secondary career, Cunningham left the Island for the North Shore to join the Blues in what she hopes will be the year they finish with gold at provincials. Considering her history on the court, her sign-on has certainly brought them one step closer.
“I was recruited to Camosun, like, my entire life,” Cunningham recalled of her journey to the Chargers. She started playing in the fourth grade, and by the sixth grade, she joined the South Vancouver Island Basketball Association (SVIBA) where she continued to develop her skills throughout high school. Her SVIBA team, as fate would have it, was run by Brett Westcott, the Chargers’ head coach at the time, and she was recruited to the Victoria university’s women’s team after graduation. There, she had a stellar year, making the 2013-14 Pacific Western Athletic Association (PACWEST) All-Rookie team and averaging 14 points a game.
The next year, following major changes to the team’s coaching, things changed. Cunningham played one more full year and saw equally impressive success, but come her third year, she left the team early in the season. She spent the remainder of that year focusing on her studies and took a break from basketball for the entirety of the next year to complete her degree in sports management. After playing non- stop since the fourth grade, that break left her missing the game, and if anything, made her love it more. “I feel like that’s very cliché, but when you play for so long and you never really get a break – I don’t know. [The break] really brought back the love of the game for me, so now I’m back in it, ready to do the grind and everything.”
Her eager attitude and return to the court couldn’t come at a better time for a Blues team who was shocked last season with their second silver finish at provincials. In fact, for Cunningham, it’s a huge part of the team’s appeal. “I feel like this team, because they’ve gotten silver twice in a row, and I wasn’t part of that but I know how much that stings, so I’m just really excited about how driven this team is to win a provincial championship. That’s what I’m most excited about for sure.”
This season, of course, is not Cunningham’s first encounter with the Blues. She has shared the court with several of her new teammates as their opponent in the past. Fifth-year players Ashley Dela Cruz Yip and Carmelle M’Bikata were quick to name Cunningham as one of the stars of the team’s new roster. Dela Cruz Yip recalled a time early in Cunningham’s Camosun days when she saw her old team into the semi-finals, beating out the Blues. “When we were opposing her we always saw her as a threat you know, as a really good player. And now to have her on our team is really great,” said Dela Cruz Yip. “She does a lot of good things for us. She works hard on defence, like, she’s the one who’s getting all those deflections and what not,” M’Bikata added in agreement.
On her end, Cunningham is just as excited to be on their side now, echoing Dela Cruz Yip, Cunningham recalled early encounters with the long-term team members. “I remember them [Dela Cruz Yip and M’Bikata] always being such huge threats. Having them on my team now, I don’t have to worry about them. They do their thing. They’re such good players, such good teammates too. It’s awesome.”
The Blues’ coaching staff also recognized Cunningham’s skills in her Camosun days During her break from basketball, while working with the Chargers’ event staff, Cunningham was approached by the Blues’ former coach during their recruiting period who encouraged her to get in contact with him. She followed up, and as she put it “It just kind of went from there.”
Coming out of the pre-season and already having earned three wins in the regular season, Cunningham is already feeling at home with the Blues. “I enjoy Capilano a lot more,” she said, “The team feels like more of a family than it did at my last school. And even just the organization itself, I feel like Capilano backs up its team more, like, the administration. It gets behind the teams more than my last school so I feel a lot more supported here.”
No matter what team she’s on, Cunningham continues to prove that she’s an impact player. Fortunately, it’s for, and not against, the Blues.