When I sat down to speak with Sofia I told her she was a mystery to me. There is no missing her when you come to a game and I was intrigued with knowing more about her since I saw her play last year. She was in her rookie year last year and won the female rookie of the year award at the Ryerson Rams athletics banquet in April. She is one of the tallest women I have ever seen at 6′ 4″. When I joined the team this year the first thing I noticed about Sof other than the major transformation she had made over the summer physically (more on that later) was how quiet she is. Even after more than 4 months I have only heard her speak a few times…hence the mystery. I was so pleased that she agreed to sit down and talk with me.
Sofia was born in and grew up in Etobicoke. She still lives there and comes downtown every day for school on the subway after her Dad drives her to the subway station. She lives with her Mom and Dad who she described as her biggest supporters. They come to every game. This got me thinking about the role of the parents and families of our athletes, but more on this in my next post.
As a kid Sofia tried a number of sports and she also did Ukrainian dancing (her family is Ukrainian) but when it looked like she was going to be tall her mom put her in basketball. She started when she was eight years old. In high school she played on the senior women’s basketball team at her school for the whole four years there. Growing up she also played for 6 years for an Etobicoke team and then moved with a coach who supported her to an Oakville team. Last year was her first year at Ryerson. When I asked her if she had considered other schools she said that she had a lot of offers from schools in the states but that she really wanted to stay close to home. Which left just Toronto schools. She was at a recruiting visit at U of T when they were playing Ryerson. After the game Ryerson Head Coach Carly got in touch with her and invited her to visit Ryerson and to come for a tour. She did that, loved Ryerson and lucky for us chose to come here.
In my continual desire to understand what motivates these athletes I asked her “why basketball?” She said she likes the game but is not sure if she loves it. Unlike some of her teammates she does not watch basketball as a fan. She enjoys playing though, staying active, and being around her teammates. She likes to complete and is motivated by seeing improvements in herself. She talked about the hard work she has been doing since last season with regard to her fitness level. In the summer she worked with a nutritionist to improve her diet (eliminating dairy was one major change) and she was in the gym working out every day. She is really an inspiration for me for sure. She posted this before (from last season) and after (taken a few days ago) on social media. I know everyone who knows her is really proud of her accomplishments in improving her conditioning and her performance on the court.
I asked her what she disliked about basketball. She said that there isn’t really anything that she doesn’t like but she found it difficult to run and did not enjoy this aspect of the game last year when she was not in as good physical condition as she is this year. I think the work that she did this summer has made the experience of daily practices and workouts much more bearable and enjoyable. In the fall the team meets weekly at 7 am to run hills in Riverdale Park. She told me that last year she couldn’t even complete one hill and this year she was able to do all ten expected of each member of the team. She also wanted to be in better shape so she could contribute more to the team because this year she needed to step into a starter position vacated by a player who graduated last year.
Sofia studies Early Childhood Education and wants to be a teacher when she leaves school. She wants to teach either kindergarten or grade one. I can totally see her doing this – I still don’t really know her that well but I do see a lovely young woman who is gentle, patient, and kind. She said she enjoys teaching simple things to young children, teaching that involves more hands on showing, and creating fun learning activities than talking or just writing on the blackboard. Last year her placement was at the Early Childhood Centre at Ryerson working with the toddlers, and this year she worked with kids at Green Thumbs Growing doing gardening with kids and next year her placement will be with children with disabilities. This fall has been particularly challenging and more stressful than last year when she only took four courses. This year she enrolled in 5 classes. Along with her placement, basketball and the commute to school she has a lot on her plate.
When I asked her what people would be surprised to know about her she said that although she is usually quiet, with some people like (teammate) Mac she is very talkative…talking all the time. She said she is “just a nice person” who really likes being at home and who gets along really well with her parents. It is very clear to me that she really appreciates their support.
Sof is only in her second year and plans to play her full five years of eligibility, so I am excited to see what develops for her and her game as she gets more experience playing OUA and CIS basketball. She is going to keep working on getting better. A summer of improving her conditioning helped her improve her game this past fall. Now she wants to work on being more physically aggressive and improving her game defensively. We had our conversation before the holiday break and I watched her play a couple of days ago in a scrimmage against the number one ranked Saskatchewan Huskies. She made some defensive plays that showed a strength and physical confidence and dominance that indicates to my completely untrained eye that she is making progress on this front. So many great things to come in the next 3 months and beyond for this really lovely young woman…so happy to have a court side seat to watch it all.