It’s in her blood

Brittany Gilliss (15, centre) shoots during the 2013 Ken Gould Invitational (Philip Drost/AQ)
Brittany Gilliss (15, centre) shoots during the 2013 Ken Gould Invitational (Philip Drost/AQ)

The path that led Brittany Gilliss to the Tommies basketball team is far from simple.

She’s played for a number of different teams at various levels, ranging from one of the biggest high schools in New Brunswick to one of the smallest.

“The first time I ever touched a basketball was in fifth grade. My parents introduced me to it. My mom was a basketball player,” said Gilliss. Her mother, Sarah Jane Gilliss, played for STU from 1993-94.

“They signed me up for it and I ended up loving it.”

Gilliss initially went to Fredericton High School, where she played on the varsity team.

In the 11th grade, she transferred from FHS to Devon Park Christian School for academic reasons. Devon Park didn’t even have a full gym. Before every game the team would have to carry chairs to put along the baseline so fans would have a place to sit. Every seat in the gym was a courtside seat.

“You’re going from a school with 2000 kids to a school with 200 kids. So, we’re playing against other small schools and the caliber, it’s just not the same. But I find the atmosphere of the smaller schools is so much more enjoyable to play in,” she said.

In her first year at Devon Park, she helped bring the girls basketball team to the finals. There Gilliss lost to future Tommies teammate Hilary Goodine and the Tobique Valley Panthers. The following year, Devon Park didn’t have enough girls to put out a varsity team. This meant Gilliss was allowed to try-out for the boys’ team. She made it.

“The thing that I worked on the most was my shooting. You have to go from playing with a girl’s ball to a guy’s ball, which is much bigger and harder to handle. You have to be stronger with everything that you do,” said Gilliss.

At the beginning of the season Gilliss was one of the first players to be substituted into the game, but as she worked hard and got used to playing with and against boys, she became a starter. By the end of the year she was the team’s third leading scorer.

“It’s a completely different game. Girls basketball is a majority team-oriented. When you go to playing with guys, it’s more individual.”

Gilliss found it wasn’t her teammates who had trouble playing with a girl.

“A lot of the people I played against thought it was funny, hard for them to get used to maybe, but that’s about it,” she said.

The team went on to win their first ever provincial basketball championship. After that, Gilliss decided that she was done with the sport and was going to focus on studies. Her plan was to go to UNB on an academic scholarship.

“I took the summer off basketball. When I got to UNB, I decided that I missed it, so two weeks in I transferred to St. Thomas.”

“I was practising, and then doing my cardio, and then doing extra runs on top of that for the ground I missed. It took a couple months to get it back,” said Gilliss, who found herself having to play catch up.

The transition back to playing with girls went well, with the Tommies winning an ACAA Championship and a bronze medal at nationals. Gilliss was named top rookie in their conference. Then Gilliss made another change.

“I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do with my future, and I decided I wanted to go to hair school. The time came in January when I was supposed to go to school, and that wasn’t for me. So, I called Fred and told him I wanted to come back.”

After deciding to come back to STU, she set her sights on the upcoming season.

“We’ve got a solid group this year. I’d say one of the best teams St. Thomas has ever seen. I don’t think it’s a far stretch to say it’s possible for us to win a national championship.”

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