By Lethbridge Herald on February 8, 2024.
Andrea Hlady brought the University of Lethbridge Pronghorns basketball teams to the National stage. For that, she will be inducted into the Pronghorns Hall of Fame at the team’s Hall of Fame Night tonight when the Pronghorns host the University of Alberta Pandas and Golden Bears at the University of Lethbridge gymnasium. The women’s game starts at 6 p.m. with the men to follow at 8 p.m.
Hlady led the Pronghorns women’s basketball team to its only Canada West title in 1993. A two-time Canada West first-team all-star and All-Canadian, Hlady led Canada West in scoring during the 1991-92 season when she was named Canada West MVP.
Also a member of the Lethbridge Sports Hall of Fame, Hlady – who hails from PIncher Creek – was the Pronghorn Female Athlete of the Year in 1992 and 1993.
After sticking to her southern Alberta home roots when she first walked onto the hardwood with the Pronghorns nearly 37 years ago, Hlady now takes her rightful steps into the program’s history.
“It’s been 31 years since I played at the U of L,” said Hlady. “I’ve had to do the math, because I thought it wasn’t that long ago. But it’s such a focused and an intense time when you’re playing, because that’s all you’re doing. Someone is making practice plans for you and your full schedule is laid out in front of you. You don’t have to think twice about all the minutia and what goes into letting you be an athlete. I’m so grateful I even had the opportunity to be in that position to play and just to play. It feels like I was helped so much along the way and what a luxury for me to be in the Hall of Fame. It’s so great.”
Hlady began her Pronghorn career in the late-80s, as she recalled walking onto the court as a rookie in 1987.
“The nice thing about it is the expectations were really low on anyone coming in as a rookie,” said Hlady. “You get that bit of time to learn the ropes of university life.
“There were never a lot of rookies, you’re one of the few because usually the squad is set and there is always a little bit of wiggle room. But I remember going in (thinking) I’m not going to blow this. I might not have the skill, but I have the athletic ability to be here and I’m going to use it wisely. I remember it was a pretty conscious decision to not just take it lightly. I was not with my high school team anymore. It was just different people. So I remember taking it pretty seriously. There weren’t very many rookies around me, so I had better get at it.”
Hlady said the Pronghorns put a strong team on the court throughout her Pronghorns career.
“I remember going into year four and we were just over .500 as a team,” she said. “I think our record was 11-9. I mention year four because all of those games were won or lost in overtime or there was such a thin spread. Even though we lost nine out of 20 games, we were never out of any games.”
In her fifth year, the Horns stormed to an 18-2 record and eventually a berth at Nationals, knocking off their rival University of Victoria in the Canada West final that year.
“I think that pressure, experience and knowledge of playing in close games were there. It was such a progression (between) year four and five because there was a lot of turnover after my third year,” said Hlady. “We were definitely a winning team with lots of local talent (with) recruiting. We recruited three women from Pincher Creek. We just had so much local talent that was coming (in) that you recognized the high school talent and then we got to play with them at the U of L. That was a cool thing because you did follow the high school talent and the strong players and then there was the chance they were potentially going to come to the U of L.”
The road to the Canada West title, and ultimately Nationals, went through the tough University of Victoria gymnasium.
“It’s not hard to remember,” said Hlady. “We had a good rivalry with the University of Victoria and the final was against them in Victoria. I remember thinking we were right where we should be and this is what we were working toward, not just that year, but longer than that, two or three years”
Hlady recalled her team having control of the close game.
“I don’t remember the point spread, it was probably five, six or seven (points). The feeling when we knew we had the game was it was where we needed to be. We weren’t surprised. Being in (their) gym was a different feeling, too. We just came to play ball and let’s get it done. It was fun.”
They won on the road, but a huge welcome awaited the Pronghorns back home from the fans and media alike.
“We probably had the Lethbridge Herald, they came to the airport to welcome us,” said Hlady. “There were a few parents and some fans that followed women’s basketball. The reception was fun. We came back, flew into Lethbridge and were greeted by a small entourage. It was fun.”
At nationals, the Pronghorns defeated the University of Toronto in the opening round, but lost to eventual champion University of Winnipeg in the semifinal.
They lost the third place game to Laurentian University to take fourth in the Nation.
However, Hlady and then-Pronghorns coach Dori Johnson had been to the previous year’s nationals as spectators.
She recalled a chat with Gene Principe, the current host of Edmonton Oilers broadcasts on Sportsnet who was working at CFCN-TV in Lethbridge at the time.
“We watched the tournament and it was just thew two of us. I remember speaking with Gene Principe and he said ‘Hey, how’s it going? and ‘What are your hopes?’ I said we wanted our team to go to Nationals. It was such a nice experience being there and watching it.”
The following year, Hlady capped off her Pronghorns career at Nationals alongside her teammates.
“That’s what I remember about going to nationals, we were taking the team,” she said. “We didn’t play most of these teams during the year with exception of one or two if we went to a tournament. That’s what I remember most, (that) this is something we get to experience as a team and I knew that doesn’t come around often, that chance to have that experience. I had been there five years and in my first year we hosted Nationals, so we got in as the host and four years later we were finally back. We were doing it as a group and I don’t know if the team knew that that wasn’t an experience you were going to get often So I hope my teammates knew it was something special. Just doing that as a team was a big deal.”
Hlady credited Johnson as well as her sister Stephanie Hlady and Lynette Taal in helping her during her Pronghorns years.
“I have to give a lot of credit to Dori,” she said. “She was our coach. She started coaching in 1991 or 1992, so I only had Dori for my final two years.
“Other coaches had belief in me, but that’s what Dori had. Anyone who was on the team, she believed in. In retrospect, you don’t get that. Dori, maybe because she was a young coach, but her style is not a power style, it’s a ‘We need to get this done with each of you contributing’. There was so much autonomy with her and so much responsibility. She let me know I was leading the team, but she didn’t say it. She made me know I was accountable and responsible for this team and the autonomy that comes with that. Honestly, that’s what helped me and that’s why I get to be in the Hall of Fame, because someone believed in me so much that you just get it done and excel to the best you can because they believe in you.”
Hlady said her sister was key in her coming to the Pronghorns.
“Stephanie was the one who influenced me to come to the University of Lethbridge. She said I would be a good fit and it was easy to follow her example. Plus, she is easier to play with than against,” she added with a laugh.
Upon graduating with a bachelor of education degree, Hlady worked in B.C. before teaching overseas in France and Japan,
Now back in her hometown, she currently works in municipal government in Pincher Creek.
“I’ve been working with non-profits in a business development portfolio. It has been fun, good to get my hands in a lot of different aspects of the nonprofit world,” she said.
Over three decades removed from her playing days at the university, Hlady still gets to check out the southern basketball Alberta talent through her 16-year-old daughter.
“So I get to see some basketball and the tournaments she goes to and just see what young talent,” she said. “I hope I played a part somehow in advancing women’s sport and advancing the possibilities for girls as they enter university and join women’s sports. I am just so amazed, I just love watching women’s sports and seeing the strength, speed, fitness and the attitude you see now. It’s amazing. It’s been 31 years (since I played), but just to watch the young women play nowadays. It’s so good. It’s progressing and it’s phenomenal.”
But on Friday, Hlady will reflect on her playing days as she joins the Pronghorns Hall of Fame.
“I think it’s really a feeling of gratitude,” she said. “It’s not an individual sport and you have to put some brain, heart and athletic ability into it. I hope people around me are a part of this even though I was singled out as an individual. It’s just gratitude and thanking people for their generosity towards me when I got to play and helping me. I’m excited to just be a part of that.”