"There is a rumour that there is a shooter in Australia. Do you know where she is?" read the email that Dinos women’s basketball coach Shawnee Harle sent to her prized three-point shooter, Cathy Payne. At the time, Payne was in Australia, thoroughly enjoying the final leg of an eight-month back-packing tour.
"Basketball was constantly on my mind as I traveled. That told me I still had a passion for the sport."
Upon her return, she possessed the excitement and energy of a child on Christmas day. Payne was back with a vengeance. But this young woman’s vitality and love for her sport wasn’t always this great. When Cathy left Calgary in September 1998 she had lost some of her focus.
"By the end of my fourth year I’d sort of lost my passion… I believe in being passionate about what you do or don’t do it at all," said a reflective Payne. "I just kind of lost my passion with basketball and I had lost my focus academically. I left school not knowing whether or not I’d play again. I left thinking whatever I find on this trip will help me refocus."
Payne has a long history with basketball. She started her stellar career in grade nine and continued into high school. At graduation, it came as no surprise when she was offered a full athletic scholarship to the University of Idaho.
However, faced with the firing of both Idaho coaches, the constant internal strife among the players, and a questionable academic program, Payne left the university after two years of study. Having enrolled at the U of C in Kinesiology, she approached women’s basketball coach Shawnee Harle. A red shirt on the Dino women’s basketball team in her first year, she did not officially join the team until the 96/97 season.
It was in her fourth year at U of C that something changed–her enthusiasm had disappeared. In university for two years in Idaho and four years in Calgary, Payne was ready for a break.
Upon her return from the eight-month trip, she was gladly welcomed back as co-captain of the 99/00 women’s team. She settled back into the unique practice schedule that head coach Shawnee Harle, associate coach Claire Mitton and conditioning coach Jodi Hicks devised.
"(Harle) has refined it a bit in the last few years. They have worked together to plan a practice schedule where there is less practice time but more quality time. As a result, we are in the gym less than a lot of teams, but we are more effective in our time usage."
What has not wavered throughout her five-year career as a Dino is her respect for Harle.
"She tells everyone, if you want to be on my team you have to work hard. Nothing will come easy. You’ll have to earn what you get. That’s part of the reason why that makes her such a great coach."
With a good head coach and the national championships approaching, Payne is brimming with anticipation and excitement.
Faced with last year’s rumour that she was the only "missing piece" in a team that could have won the national championships she responds, "I provided leadership to the team, experience and great outside shooting. I am their three-point specialist. But it is very hard to say whether or not I’m the missing piece."
More importantly, she is focusing on this year’s championship.
"Everyone’s a year older and a year more mature, which gives the team so much. I am fantastically excited about this year’s team. We’ve had such a great season."
Once the playoffs are over, Payne plans to stay connected with her Dino family.
"I’m fairly sure I will be involved in the basketball program in whatever way I can next year. You can’t be involved in Shawnee and Claire’s team without feeling loyal about being a Dino. It’s a hard thing to explain. I’m so proud to be a part of it all."
Perhaps the greatest thing is how Cathy describes her participation on the team for the last five years.
"Awesome, I’ve loved every minute of it, it’s been very special to me."
This certainly will not be hard for the shooter to pass on to her remaining basketball teammates.