Pilling returns home to Brock
For Jenneke Pilling, home is where the heart and hardcourt is.
The 19-year-old St. Catharines native started her post-secondary basketball career at the University of Windsor, but has returned home to play with the Brock Badgers.
“I really missed home because my family is from Niagara and I grew up here,” the Eden graduate said. “I really enjoyed Windsor but I definitely felt like I needed to come home.”
After her first season at Windsor, the 5-foot-9 guard spent the summer in Windsor training before transferring to Brock last year about one week before classes started. She practised all year with the Brock team and sat on the bench during games.
“It was really hard because I did want to play but I really enjoyed it, I made amazing friends on the team and wanted to see them do well,” she said. “But I am definitely anxious to start playing again myself.”
The former Niagara Juel and Juel Prep player will get that chance when Brock opens its Ontario University Athletics schedule with a 6 p.m. home game Oct. 26 against the Ryerson Rams.
Many athletes gain a new perspective on their sports when forced to become a spectator and Pilling was no exception.
“I feel like I have become a much smarter player,” she said. “I have always gotten by on my athleticism, but now I feel like I have an advantage. I know (head coach Mike) Rao’s style without actually being thrown into it right away.
“I know what he likes and I know how to work with the girls because I have had a lot of practice with it; a trial run I guess.”
In Rao’s first season as head coach, Brock almost upset the eventual champions from McMaster in the playoffs and that has fuelled optimism for the coming season.
“As a team, we have pretty high expectations for ourselves this season,” Pilling said. “For myself, I don’t have any specific goals other than to do the best that I can.”
She obviously wants to continue her progression as a player.
“I definitely have been trying to work on my ball handing to try to give (point guard Melissa) Tatti another outlet and also my shot,” she said. “I am already fast so I am confident in my driving ability, but I don’t want to be a one-dimensional player so I want to get my shot better too.”
She believes she is ready to play despite missing a season.
“I feel that I adapt to whatever level I am playing at and I noticed that from high school to rep ball to university,” Pilling said. “I was always able to bring it up not the next level and at Windsor it all started with my defence. Once I got that, it all starts to come after that.”
The shooting guard can’t wait to start her playing career with the Badgers.
“I’m excited for the first home game to finally get to play in front of my friends, family and the community who have watched me grow up in Niagara since I was in Grade 4,” she said. “Even my work friends, everyone wants to come out, and I am so appreciative of their support and I just want to play for them.”
Pilling is expected to be in the Badgers’ rotation this season.
“Jenneke has earned that chance. Will she start? That is up to her,” Rao said. “She was here for the whole year, she worked hard, she deserves a lot of playing time this year and she will get it.”
Rao has seen Pilling evolve over the past year.
“She has really revamped her game, she is a quick learner and your are going to see a different Jenneke Pilling than in the past,” he said. “She reads the game a lot better, she gets open a lot more, she finds other people and you see the ball moving with her on the floor.”