When COVID-19 precautions slammed the door on training and playing the sport she’d loved since Grade 4, Lauren Rust started to contemplate her options.
The Oak Bay basketball player couldn’t fathom not attending the post-secondary school of her dreams – a Division I college.
In summer 2020 she was invited to some high-performance Basketball BC programs that included a handful of non-contact games in Vancouver. Severely restricted, it did allow for some training and improvement.
She was in Grade 10 and worried it would hamper her goal of high-level ball, and a scholarship, so she started thinking about shifting living elsewhere. Rust and her dad looked into every prep school in Ontario, California and Washington, seeking the balance between education and sport.
Many she was simply too late to apply to, or the school didn’t offer boarding.
“One day we were just talking about it … I didn’t really feel I was going to actually do it,” the teen said.
Her aunt in Tennessee suggested Webb School in Bell Buckle, the state champions the previous year. The Oak Bay player sent the coach a video and he emailed back within a day saying they’d accept her.
Rust was sitting in the mall the day she got the email, and realized her passport was expired a week before the start of school. She arrived in Tennessee the day after Labour Day to start her Grade 11 year – her first time away from home.
“I’ve gained a lot of independence from it. It was a big cultural change for me,” she said. “I feel like I made the best friends of my entire life. It’s almost like I’m on vacation every day.”
Teammates now hailed from across the U.S., Denmark and China, dipping her into different cultures.
It was the highest level of training, effort and commitment ever expected of her and it paid off. The team again won state championships.
Over the summer she found time to play with both with Team BC at U17 nationals, where they finished second against Ontario and Rust was named first-team all-star. She and three teammates also went to the U18 Canada Games. “We didn’t do too great but it was really fun to be a part of that.”
For the rest of the summer, she focused on a main source of recruitment, different competitive circuits based on brands. She joined the Under Armour circuit and through May, June and July played arena tournaments featuring four games a day.
The work culminated in 15 different scholarship offers.
On Nov. 11, dreams built on school courts at St. Patrick’s, Monterey middle, St. Micheal’s University School and hardwood across B.C. as part of provincial competition and training, culminated in her ultimate goal – signing with the University of Pittsburgh.
Rust expects to be home a handful of days over Christmas before heading to a tournament in Florida.