A dream meeting

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Jenna Bain finally connects with her long-time idol Luciann Lahey

Shannon Aikenhead-Bain
Caper Times (Cape Breton University)

SYDNEY, N.S. (CUP) — Cape Breton Capers women’s basketball player Luciann Lahey was just 14 years old when she inspired pre-schooler Jenna Bain with her basketball skills and kindness during a provincial tournament.

After seven years of wanting to meet Lahey again, Bain finally got to connect with her basketball idol at a Capers game against the visiting Saint Mary’s Huskies last month.

For the youngster, to be sitting with a varsity athlete and chatting about basketball was the thrill of a lifetime. After all this time, Lahey was as skilled and gracious as we had remembered.

The two players – one a CIS women’s basketball player, the other a member of the under-12 Bedford Eagles – lit up with big smiles as Lahey gave Bain a hug following the Capers win. Lahey had scored a long basket with the same “perfect teapot shot” that Bain admired years ago.

As they looked at the old provincial team photo, with a four-year-old Bain standing proudly alongside Lahey, the elder player chuckled and said something that stunned the youngster.

“When I was in Grade 7, I didn’t even make the junior high team, A or B. I just played on the C team,” Lahey explained.

“Then something happened over the summer. I had a really big growth spurt that helped me, plus I played a lot in the backyard with my six older brothers. And I always listened when Patrick [brother] would give me tips. I made the Grade 8 A team and then with this Grade 9 team. That’s when I finally began to stand out.”

As Bain and Lahey talked, the conversation steered towards learning more about how to get on a university basketball team, which Bain says she would love to do someday. Her talk with Lahey only served to reinforce this desire.

“If the coaches see someone they like, they’ll follow you and start to talk with you and your high school coaches,” Lahey said.

Now that Lahey was at the university level and already well-versed in the hectic life of a student-athlete, Bain was curious about the time commitment.

“We practice most weekday evenings, and Saturday and Sundays if we’re not away for a game. If we’re on the road, we have a walk-through Friday morning, go away and play all weekend, come back late Sunday night, [and get] up for school Monday morning,” Lahey said.

“Wow, that’s a lot!” Bain replied.

It sounded exhausting.

But Lahey didn’t seem overwhelmed by her response. She talked about how much she gets out of being on a varsity team.

“I love every part of it, not just the basketball itself, but being so active, going away, meeting new friends. I have a few friends on my team that I think I’ll have for the rest of my life. Last year, our team went to Cuba. When I was in Grade 12, I got to travel to Florida.”

With every word, this path toward being a university basketball player was becoming more appealing to Bain by the minute.

After hearing about Lahey’s lifestyle over the years – Bain discovered that Lahey played piano for 15 years, took the Conservatory exams and dabbled in baseball and school volleyball while enrolled in the French Immersion program –  the youngster brought the conversation back to Capers basketball.

“What is the toughest team you’ve played against this year?” Bain asked.

“All of our games have been tough,” Lahey explained. "The games we win are not blowouts. We still have to play [New Brunswick] and they have a couple of all-stars on their team, so I’m thinking that’ll be our toughest match.”

Lahey was optimistic, though, about the prospect of her team going to nationals for the third year in a row.

And what of Lahey’s goals when this year’s season comes to an end?

“I will finish my teaching degree in July, so this is my last year playing for the Capers. Right now, I’m practicing teaching at Riverview High. I’d love to coach, too. I’ll see where my job takes me. I’d love to stay in Cape Breton. I’m a big homebody.”

With a shy grin, Bain asked, “Do you have any advice for me?”

Lahey took a second to think about the answer, but then said something that will likely resonate with Bain forever.

“There are times when you don’t play well and you can get down on yourself. Don’t get discouraged if it all doesn’t come together right away. There are people who didn’t even play junior high ball, but practiced a lot and made a high school team. So even if you don’t make certain teams, keep practicing. It’s the time you put into it. You can develop yourself into a good player.”

Bain beamed when Lahey invited her to watch the rest of the men’s game that was going on while they were chatting outside the stadium. The two basketball enthusiasts spent the rest of the hour discussing the close game.

It was obvious they both loved watching basketball as much as they loved playing it. To be hanging out with Lahey in the bleachers, talking about this “intense” game was a huge highlight for Bain. That, and when Lahey insisted Bain email her the Eagles schedule so she could see her play.

It has been eight years since Bain first cheered for her basketball idol in a junior high school gym. From the sounds of it, next time it’ll be Lahey doing the cheering.

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