The Program: St. Thomas More Collegiate "Gritty Knights"
Updated: Mar 1, 2019
When you walk through the doors of St. Thomas More Collegiate, there’s an immediate warm presence—a feeling of home, almost.
Maybe it’s the armoured Knights protecting the building, which has stood atop the grounds of Burnaby since 1960. Or possibly the connection each ‘student Knight’ has with his or her teachers, who feel more like family than simply someone who stands at the front of a classroom.
One of those being Jen Farano—a teacher who wears many hats to her beloved students, including one that means so much to her: Basketball Coach.
Coming from a very basketball-oriented family, it’s no surprise that Coach Farano has found her piece of home on the sideline surrounded by the senior girl ballers. She’s been coaching at St. Thomas More for about 13 years, with 8 years of experience prior to STM at Arch Bishop Carney. Farano also coached at Capilano University alongside Paul Chiarenza. And during her stint at Holy Cross—where her brother Matt LeChasseur currently coaches the senior boys basketball team—she ran basketball camps as a teenager, too.
Despite each different experience, she says there’s something special about this year’s group of girls.
“This is a fun team. I absolutely love them. They have so much energy and they have so much passion for the sport and for each other,” Farano gushed. “Which is so awesome to coach because they’re highly motivated to be successful.”
And successful is the perfect word to describe the Knight’s 2018/2019 season, given they recently punched their ticket to the BC Provincials, which began on Wednesday, February 27th.
Much of the team is comprised of girls who have been playing together for five years, which translates to near flawless play on the court. There’s trust in each other and an inimitable bond between players that only comes with countless hours spent together, perfecting plays and understanding strengths that mesh so well with one another.
"This is the most amazing group of people I’ve ever got to play with,” Knights’ captain Brooklyn Monks smiled. “They’re like my second family. We’re friends on the court, off the court, and being able to play a sport that you love so much with people you love so much is a really great experience.”
Family is a profound theme of this team. Just look at two of the faces running around the court. It’s as if you’re seeing double…Well, that’s because STM boasts twin sisters in their lineup: Gigi and Bella Gaspar.
“This team, it really has just a different bond,” said Gigi. “We’re all so close and we’re just in it for each other, it sounds kind of cliché. We kind of have…a different chemistry I guess.”
Of course, Gigi was accompanied by sister Bella during her interview. So we had to ask the most pressing question.
“Twin telepathy is sort of a thing, but like it sort of helps us out on the floor,” Bella said about twinning it up on the court alongside sister Gigi. “We just sort of see each other before anyone else sees where we are.”
While the love for each teammate is evident in their laughs and embracing hugs both on-and-off the court, what stands out about this team more than anything is the sheer grittiness they bring to each game they play. It’s as if they’re in the Super Bowl of basketball on any given day.
“We come to play. We come to play from the time tip-off goes till the last whistle goes. They are pretty gritty, they’re pretty aggressive, but at the same time, they’re good sports.
Sportsmanship is kind of a big deal for them. But they work hard. They work hard all game long and they never give up and they never give in,” said Coach Farano.
Farano coaches alongside Coach David Kazun and Coach Joe Thierman—each one brings a unique mentorship to the Knights, who in turn see their coaches as family, too.
“Our coaches…well, they put in so much time for us,” said Gigi. “It’s hard to ignore how dedicated they are to our team. And they’re just as passionate about our team and our success as the girls are on our team. So it’s kind of special—it’s hard to find three coaches as dedicated as they are.”
“I’ve been with one of the coaches since I was in Grade 8, so they’re kind of just part of my family now—my basketball family,” said small guard Shiloh Corrales-Nelson.
Gigi says it’s hard to find three coaches as dedicated as Coach Farano, Kazun, and Theirman.
“It’s pretty solid. Our coaches, well they put in so much time for us. It’s hard to ignore how dedicated they are to our team. And they’re just as passionate about our team and our success as the girls are on our team, so it’s kind of special.”
Back to business, though. These Gritty Knights had one goal for this past season: to make it back to the big leagues at the BC AA Provincials and level up from the 9th place finish they had in 2018.
“Last year? Our team was pretty good actually. We made it to provincials and it was really tough because we lost our first game, which put us in the losing bracket,” Knights’ little firecracker Aurafel Domingo recalled.
She said despite the loss, the team learned a big lesson. It’s so crucial to come together and play as one.
That’s why when you watch St. Thomas More, there isn’t just one standout player, as Coach Kazun put it.
“If someone’s having a rough game, there’s always someone who’s on that game. So it’s this constant switch mode where sometimes, you know, one of our posts is having an off game, and so we can’t get the ball inside as much and we can’t dominate on the inside. The guards pick it right back up and we kick it around the outside, right? So it’s that constant interchange—it’s very interchangeable. Again, it’s really hard to describe standout players when they’re so cohesive and their strengths compliment each other, but also their challenges compliment each other. So where one player struggles, another can back that up.”
And that’s exactly what they did in their first round of the 2019 BC Provincials against the Duchess Park Condors on Wednesday evening.
The Knights danced (literally) around their opponents in what can only be described as a near flawless effort from everyone on the team, who defeated the Condors by a whopping 72-39.
Each player complimented one another; the bench even had adoring chants directed at the members on the floor. It was a beautifully intense game that was almost indescribable to watch. You could feel how much fun STM (coaches included) had playing together.
Especially Grade 11 point guard Cassiel Penalosa. She brought extreme hype for her team whenever on the floor or the bench. She even battled through the pillars on defence, too. Her charismatic, never-quit attitude was nothing short of contagious. It’s very evident how much she loves the game—and these girls.
“I honestly couldn’t ask for anything more," she said.
"These guys have given me a family and friends, and people I can rely on."
Brooklyn Monks was named Player of the Game with an outstanding 26 points, 10 rebounds, and 3 steals.
The electricity from that game will be felt in the hearts of the team forever, no doubt.
“What’s not enjoyable about coaching these girls?” said Coach Kazun. “They are a phenomenal, phenomenal group to be with. I come here [and] I know that they’re going to pick me up just with their enthusiasm and their energy and dedication. And I can’t stress enough how awesome that is to see. It’s hard to describe the environment and the ambiance that you get with these girls and going into a practice and especially a game, because they pick it up real well during games and they fight till the end.
They’re like a small, little family. A small, little independent unit that works together and supports one another. And it’s great to see.”
Keep on dancing, Knights.
St. Thomas More Collegiate Knights play the Langley Christian Lightning in the Quarterfinals at 6:30pm in the South Court of the Langley Events Centre on Thursday, February 28, 2019.
Written by: Crystal Scuor