Written by Kristin Anton
It was senior athlete appreciation night on January 27th when Kayla Gordon’s family walked into the gym at the Langley Events Centre. It was the last regular season home game Gordon would play as a Spartan. As her friends and family approached the bleachers Kayla’s younger sister, Melissa, eyed an empty row that the whole group could fill. Gordon’s mom and dad, grandparents, sister, boyfriend, former coach and a few friends took their seats side-by-side. A warm smile came across the face of Gordon’s mom, Susanne as she looked down and saw her daughter on the court.
The Gordon’s had travelled the nine-hour drive down from Prince George to celebrate Gordon, who, not 24 hours earlier, in that very same gym, had become the Spartans all-time leading scorer.
Sitting alongside Susanne in the fifth row was Gordon’s father, Lance, the man who was her original inspiration.
Lance was once a competitive badminton player, who represented Canada four times at the World Games for the Deaf (now known as the Deaflympics).
“He never let anything stop him.” Gordon says. “Even though he was deaf, he always chased his dreams and that made me want to do the same, without making excuses while having fun doing it.”
Gordon was raised in the northern British Columbia city of Prince George, where her family discovered her athleticism early on.
“She has been in constant motion since about 6 months old,” Susanne explains. “Her constant movement and need for activity compelled us to get her into activities at a young age.”
In the spring of her kindergarten year, Susanne registered Kayla in soccer. However, while on the field, she spent more time doing hand stands and cartwheels than she did kicking the soccer ball. On one particular day, following soccer practice, Susanne walked across the street to the gymnastics club, where she signed Kayla up for a summer camp.
Gordon was a natural gymnast and she immediately fell in love with the sport. By the time she was nine years old, Gordon was training for 18 hours a week and regularly medaling in her competitions. Soon enough, Gordon set her sights on earning a university scholarship for gymnastics.
However, when she was 12 years old, a wrist injury derailed her gymnastics dreams.
While she waited for her appointment with an orthopedic surgeon that was several months away, Gordon swapped the gymnastics vault for a basketball. Her basketball career was supposed to be temporary – simply something to keep her busy while she awaited word on her wrist. Eventually, she had her appointment with the surgeon. It wasn’t good news. Gordon was told returning to gymnastic would not be a possibility. Heartbroken, Gordon made the decision to focus on basketball.
“I remember her saying, “Well, if I can’t get a scholarship for gymnastics, then I’ll get a basketball scholarship,” Susanne says. “And she poured all her energy into basketball.”
Soon enough she rose to prominence in her new sport. While she was still in Grade 7 at single-A Cedars Christian School in Prince George, she was already playing with the Grade 8 team. The following year, she joined the senior team, where she became a rising star over the next four seasons of her high school career.
“Going to a small school and playing right away and playing (with older players),” Gordon explains. “I was pushed to play against girls who were bigger, better and stronger than me. That would have been very different if I had lived elsewhere and had to stay in my age group.”
Jeff Ludditt is a close family friend of the Gordon family and was also Kayla’s high school volleyball coach. Alongside Lance and Susanne, Ludditt sat with the Gordon’s biggest supporters in that fifth row, cheering her on. He wouldn’t have missed this one.
“Seeing Kayla grow from Grade 8 and throughout high school, and seeing her turn into the athlete and individual she is, is amazing,” Ludditt says. “I don’t think I ever could have imagined she would turn into this 1000-point scorer and leader of her team. It’s a dream come true for her but also for the people who have followed her along the way.”
While Gordon’s high school success had university coaches already taking notice, it was her performances with B.C.’s provincial teams, which accelerated her journey to TWU. However, looking back, Gordon can’t help but smile when she recalls her first experience with Team BC.
“It kind of just happened by accident,” Gordon says. “My friend didn’t want to go to this tryout alone for the BC Summer games and I just said, ‘Ok, sure.’ I ended up making the team even though I was a year younger than the intended age group. Since then I played on the provincial team every year after that.”
It was while Gordon was with the U17 provincial team that her university dreams began to come to life. After a dinner with TWU head coach Cheryl Jean-Paul, Gordon was sold on becoming a Spartan.
Jean-Paul wanted Gordon to be a key player in the evolution of the Spartans women’s basketball program.
“That grabbed me, I really wanted to be a part of something growing” says Gordon.
She knew she would get to play some minutes in her first year and that the team may not be very successful in the first couple of years but she could see the little things in place that gave her hope.
“We have always said that if everyone on our team could get one or two percent better in just a few areas, then collectively we are going to get there,” Gordon says. “A major theme of our program is that none of us can do it on our own. We have proven that when we work together that is when we see success.”
The Spartans now enter playoff foray after putting together a program-best 16-4 regular season record. They also earned a spot in the U SPORTS Top 10 rankings for the first time in program history, moving as high as No. 9 in the most recent coaches’ poll.
This year’s success comes on the heels of what was a record-setting season last year, when the Spartans posted a then program-best 12-8 mark and won a playoff series for the first time in TWU’s history.
Along the way, Gordon – unbeknownst to her in the moment – made individual history, becoming TWU’s all-time leading scorer when she sunk the first two points in TWU’s late-January game against Thompson Rivers University.
“I actually had no idea going into that game that I was tied for the most points,” she says “This year I tried not to be distracted by stats or have it be something I focused on.”
Gordon capped her regular season career with 1,164 points to go with 606 rebounds, which saw her finish just three boards shy of TWU’s career rebounding mark, of 609, held by Corina Boes (Reimer).
After winning for the second night in a row against TRU, which all but secured an opening round playoff bye for the first time in Spartans history, Gordon and her fellow graduating senior, Ashleigh Barnes, were honored in a special post-game ceremony.
After a round of applause from the crowd, Gordon was handed a bouquet of flowers. She ran across the court, climbed up to the fifth row and gave them to her mom. Her family watched as a proud mother and a grateful daughter embraced.
It was a celebration and a basketball career they, and Spartans fans, will never forget.