Successful teams tend to be the tightest, some as close as family, and that was certainly true of the 1969-70 UBC Thunderettes women’s basketball team. Case in point: when the Thunderettes won the right to fly to New Brunswick for the Canadian Senior A national championships, UBC’s powers-that-be arbitrarily decided to only cover the flights for ten players and one coach, meaning one player and one coach would be left behind.

“Well, we weren’t going without them,” remembered team captain Betty Ross, so like they did all season the team rallied together. They held bottle drives and fundraised until the extra plane tickets were paid for. This all-for-one-one-for-all spirit translated itself into one of the most successful seasons in BC basketball history and in many ways broke the glass ceiling holding back women’s basketball at this time.

The women came from towns sprinkled across BC. First-year coaches Ken Shields and Norm Vickery raised intensity levels at daily practices higher than most had ever experienced. Afterwards there was the customary 26-minute team run out to the UBC gates and back. Some days they’d run the sand hills near Wreck Beach, spooking the odd nude sunbather. The team bonded over these extreme drills, helping one another to ensure everyone finished.

Fitter than anyone and playing an up-tempo high-energy style, they also had the talent to match. Five team members would play for Canada’s national team: Ross, Joanne Sargent, Kathy (Williams) Shields, Terri McGovern, and Wendy Grant. If the starters weren’t performing, Shields released the wild ‘Buzz Bombs’ to shake things up. What Eija Peitso, Carol Shollert, Heather Cranston, Linda (Willard) Evans, and Brenda McFarlane lacked in height, they made up for in speed and aggression, running and gunning helpless opponents right off the court.

The team juggled a busy schedule of university games while also fending off tough, experienced competition in the Vancouver Senior A women’s league. Ultimately, UBC handily defeated the University of Saskatchewan 59-25 and 57-19 to take the two-game total points Western Canadian Intercollegiate Association final, which was as far as UBC could advance in university play at that time.

The Thunderettes came from behind to narrowly defeat the Victoria Maplettes in the BC Senior A championship and advance to nationals in New Brunswick. There, they ran over all competition and captured the Canadian Senior A women’s championship, defeating St. Vital Manitoba Grads 83-54 in the final game. They were so dominant, Jan (Gee) Kainer, who wasn’t able to suit up, won the tournament free throw contest in her street clothes.

Overall, the Thunderettes compiled a 32-6 win-loss record, unmatched at UBC for 37 years. Opening an era of dominance for UBC women’s basketball, the team remains the first and only UBC women’s team to be the number one university team in Western Canada and also Canada’s Senior A national champions.

Team Members: Heather Cranston, Linda (Willard) Evans, Wendy Grant, Jan (Gee) Kainer, Brenda McFarlane, Terri McGovern, Eija Peitso, Betty Ross, Joanne Sargent, Kathy (Williams) Shields, Ken Shields (head coach), Carol Shollert, Norm Vickery (coach).

Written and researched by Jason Beck, Curator of the BC Sports Hall of Fame.