Hamilton, ON- In the early part of her seventh year of university basketball, Bridget Mulholland takes a moment to reflect.
The Queen’s Gaels forward has been through many highs and lows in that time. “It’s been a long seven years,” Mulholland said. “I don’t take the moments in the program, in the OUA and U SPORTS for granted. Recently, just been trying to soak in every moment.”
She finds herself stealing little moments here and there and really appreciating them.
On Nov. 13 against McMaster, Mulholland and her team had another one of those moments. They came into McMaster and made a third-quarter run. Mulholland had 16 points, nine rebounds and six steals – pushing the pace in transition and making key plays.
The Gaels withstood a late McMaster run for the 79-76 victory.
Mulholland is an important player on a nationally-ranked Queen’s team. The Gaels are undefeated, coming off a U SPORTS bronze medal at nationals this past April – which they hosted. They are looking to build upon that.
As bright as the present is, there were many twists and turns for Mulholland to get to this point.
Perhaps it seems like forever ago but Mulholland was once a high school phenom. She played her high school basketball with Regiopolous Notre Dame and her club basketball with Kingston Impact.
She was an Ontario U-17 gold medallist and all-star. She played for Canada at the World 3X3 championships. She was coveted by many schools – including some major programs south of the border.
However, when it came time to make her decision – which she did with almost a whole year left in high school – she stayed close to home.
It seemed forever ago that she was at her recruiting announcement press conference in September 2015 with then-Gaels head coach Dave Wilson and then-assistant coach James Bambury. Wilson raved about how exceptional Mulholland is as a player and person. Mulholland talked about why she chose Queen’s.
“Coming to a school where every day you are surrounded by people who are going to push you, support you, and ultimately you have similar goals and you’re going to fight for them, is priceless,” she said at the time.
She talked about the great people at Queen’s, her professional basketball aspirations and her national championship goals. “I think that the sky is the limit for the program,” she added.
Fast forward almost a year later and Mulholland was suiting up for her first Queen’s game. She led the team in scoring with 15 points in a 76-69 home victory over Acadia.
When the regular season came around, she continued to flourish. Mulholland was named to the OUA All-Rookie team and was named the team’s Rookie of the Year. The Gaels were winning – an 18-1 regular season and a berth at nationals. They finished fourth in the nation, falling to Carleton in the bronze medal game.
All the things envisioned during that recruiting announcement were coming true. Then came the injury.
Near the end of her first year, the injury hit. She suffered a partially-torn plantar fasciitis but continued to play through it at nationals.
She sat out her second season and had surgery during her third season, only playing in one game. When Mulholland did return in 2019-20, she said she wasn’t in shape.
“It was such a long process,” she recalled. “And before I had the surgery, a very painful process with not a lot of improvement.”
Mulholland said the recovery was tougher than she thought. For many days, it was an uphill battle with no end in sight. When would her foot be in playable condition, she wondered? When would she get back into form?
“There were a lot of days where it felt like, ‘how am I going to get there’,” she added. “It just felt – I don’t want to say impossible – but so far away.”
Through that time, she adopted the mentality of taking things one day at a time and doing what she had to do.
“Just trust that you have it within you to endure and get through each and every one of those days,” Mulholland noted. “Eventually we’ll get there.”
She learned about her resiliency, her ability to get through adversity and make it out on the other side. She played 18 games in 2019-20 before the 2020-21 season was cancelled.
Five years after playing her first game, Mulholland was healthy again and back on track – just as the team was about to have a special season of their own.
With Mulholland as part of a strong veteran group, the Gaels finished the 2021-22 season on a high. They finished 9-5 in the regular season before losing to TMU in the OUA quarterfinals.
Queen’s was seeded seventh at nationals, where they defeated the reigning national champion Saskatchewan Huskies. They pushed the Winnipeg Wesmen to the limit in a closely-fought semi-finals in front of a raucous Queen’s ARC.
The following day, they pulled away from Brock to win bronze. Mulholland and her teammates celebrated with their bronze medals on their necks and smiles on their faces.
Seven months later, the returning players and coaches carried that momentum into this season. Mulholland and head coach Claire Meadows credited the confidence it gave them by playing and winning high-pressure games.
“We proved to ourselves that we are one of the best in the country,” Mulholland said.
Against Saskatchewan, they held the lead for most of the game and pushed through a late Huskies run to emerge victorious. That experience helped them against McMaster as well.
Mulholland points how normally teams might react when their opponents make big comeback runs.
“You can almost feel the energy drain from your team and it’s like ‘we gave it a good shot but it’s over’,” she described. “We don’t have those moments anymore. You know, it’s okay. Other team’s gone on a run, that’s fine. Now it’s our turn and now we’re going to respond and now we’re going to come back.”
The nationals experience sets a foundation for this year’s team as they build upon that and forge their own identity. Meadows said pace of play is a big focus for improvement.
Veterans Julia Chadwick and Laura Donovan are their two leading scorers. Isaballa Belvedere is their top three-point ace. Third-year guard Isabella Gaudet is coming off season-long injury last year and is playing an important role in their rotation. So is first-year guard Hayley Barberi and fifth-year guard Michelle Istead among others.
As for Mulholland, she’s averaging career-highs in minutes played, points, rebounds and assists. She came into university switching between being a shooting guard and small forward. Now, she’s playing the power forward role.
“I’m a much different player now,” Mulholland added. “There’s parts of my game I miss a lot, that I wish I could still do. But, in terms of what I’m doing now…I’m a better forward now because I was a guard in the past and because of the experiences I had I’ve had over the seven years.”
Going through the injuries, the recovery and the return has made her a better teammate in her roles on the team, according to her. “I’m grateful for that,” she said.
In her past two seasons with the program, Mulholland’s been part of a special team environment. She credits Meadows and assistant coach Wumi Agunbiade for helping create that.
It’s an environment that perhaps played a role in senior players deciding to come back. Mulholland called them a competitive group.
“At the same time, there’s so much joy within the program,” she added. “I think that’s really special…to hold both of those things: competing but people wanting to come to practice. People having fun at practice and the smiles and laughter on people’s faces.”
She doesn’t recall a practice either this year or last year where she hasn’t laughed.
It starts with Meadows and Agunbiade. How they care about the players as people, according to Mulholland. How they create the environment to fit the players. How they take the time to get to know them.
The joy can come from different places. Sometimes, it’s starting practice with a game of dodgeball. Sometimes, it comes from telling jokes. Sometimes, it comes from Meadows telling a bad pun that gets Mulholland’s eyes rolling but others laughing. The environment is part of what makes them successful.
“Inside the program, there’s just a special feeling within it,” Mulholland added. “I’m pretty old now but when I’m out of eligibility, you know, it’ll be a sad day because of how special this group is and how special this program is.”
That day creeps closer every game. Last year, Mulholland and Meadows talked about what they wanted for the program. Meadows told her she wanted them to win games and be good people.
“That’s kind of hard to beat that in terms of what I want out of the next two years,” Mulholland noted.
She has another year of eligibility after this. Some days, Mulholland said she feels like she has eligibility forever but she knows her Queen’s basketball journey will end. After possibly eight years of highs and lows, relationships and memories for a lifetime and joy.
“Just trying to soak it all in with this group and enjoy every minute,” Mulholland said. “I’m going to miss it a lot. I’m going to miss the people in it a lot.”
Featured Image: Robin Kasem/Queen’s Athletics/U SPORTS