If you’re a shooter, the “heat check” in basketball is one of the sport’s most exciting moments.
It means you’re already hot and, by tossing up a shot you have no business taking or making, you’re checking to see just how scorching you are.
Jenna Ralston of the Capilano Blues women’s team had the pleasure of firing up a heat check against the Langara Falcons during their Pacwest matchup Jan. 27 in Vancouver.
Already on her way to a historic night of scoring, Ralston took a swing pass on the wing with a defender bearing down on her and a teammate wide open under the basket. Knowing a pass would almost certainly lead to two points, she instead fired up the three.
“I thought I just had enough time to get it off,” Ralston told the North Shore News later as she recalled the play. “Our post was wide open under the hoop but I was feeling it so I just decided to shoot it. If I did miss then the post would get the rebound.”
No need for rebounding — swish.
As Ralston’s performance unfolded, Capilano head coach Paul Chiarenza resisted all urges to look at the stat tally his assistant coach was taking even though he knew Ralston was making some history.
“I personally don’t ever want to think, or mention, somebody’s stats during games,” he said. “It’s a superstition of mine. . . . I knew it was high but I worry that if I mention it or if I think about it it’s going to jinx it so I try to put my brain on other things.”
Finally with less than two minutes left in the game and the outcome decided, Chiarenza subbed Ralston out and assistant coach Drew Slaght could hold it in no longer.
“42,” he blurted out.
Ralston’s final tallies of 42 points and 10 made three pointers were both Capilano school records. They were important points as well as the Blues came back from an early deficit to claim an 83-63 win. Shooting 10-15 from three-point range and 16-31 overall in the game, Ralston also chipped in seven rebounds, three assists and six steals.
“It was one of those games where you could tell she was just so dialed in. I don’t think any of them even hit rim. . . . She’s probably the best pure shooter that I’ve ever had — and we’ve had some very good shooters come through our program,” Chiarenza said about the fifth-year forward from Mission. At one point in the game Ralston knocked in four three-pointers in five Capilano possessions.
“The release is so quick and it’s so flawless,” said Chiarenza. “Everything she puts up, even if it’s contested, has a chance to go in. And it sets a lot of the other stuff up. They have to chase her off of the perimeter and she’s so cerebral that she’s able to take it, put it on the bounce and get some other people involved. She’s actually leading us in assists this year.”
Ralston described what it felt like to be “in the zone,” the place where athletes go when they can do no wrong.
“You just know that no matter what you do it’s going to go in,” she said. “It’s a great feeling. You try to get your shots up as much as you can while you’re feeling like that.”
Both Chiarenza and Ralston credited the rest of the Capilano squad for making plays and finding her in open spots.
“People were excited to give me the ball and I wasn’t going to pass that up,” said Ralston. “Having the team behind me was really important. We had 29 made field goals and had 25 assists, so our team was definitely working together.”
Rookie Hayley Boulier also put up big numbers in the win, scoring 12 points while leading the team with eight rebounds and five assists.
The Blues, sitting in third place in Pacwest play, now begin their stretch run with four games remaining before the provincial playoffs are held March 1-3. The Blues advanced to the national championships last season and are hoping to get back there this year. And they won’t have to leave their home gym to do it — all of their remaining league games and the provincial tournament will be held at the Capilano Sportsplex.
“I like our chances against anybody in our own gym,” said Chiarenza. “I think we’ve got a real shot to run the table and go back to nationals.”
However far they go, Ralston will be a big part of their success. The five-foot-10 forward leads the league in scoring average and is sixth in assists.
“She does so much for our team,” said Chiarenza. “The nice thing about her is she can hurt you in other ways. And if a team decides they’re not going to allow her to shoot the ball, they’re not going to allow her to score, it doesn’t hurt us as much as you would think . . . because she’s very good at getting other people the ball in the right spots and using the attention to free other players up.”
No matter what happens to end the season, Ralston said she is going to finish her Capilano career with her guns blazing.
“I’m leaving everything out there,” she said. “They’re going to have to pry me off of the court when I’m done at the end.”
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The Blues begin their stretch run with a pair of home games this weekend. On Friday Douglas College will be in town followed by Columbia Bible College on Saturday. On both nights the action begins with the women playing at 6 p.m. followed by the men at 8 p.m.
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