RACHAEL Vanderwal is without doubt one of the greatest women’s basketball players ever to play on these shores.
Rachael came to Cork to play with Donoughmore in 2007, and that started an amazing journey for the Canadian native. She spent six years living in Cork, playing for two years with Donoughmore, one with Iona, and three with UL of Limerick.
In that time Rachael won every honour in the game, back-to-back league and cup titles with Donoughmore. She also won multiple league and cup titles with UL, before she moved on to play in the top leagues in Spain and Belgium.
Before Rachael came to Ireland she had a standout career with Boston University under coach Kelly Greenberg who’s brother Chip played with Ballina in the late eighties.
“I went to Boston University on a four-year scholarship and played Division One basketball there from 2002-2006,” Rachael said.
“I absolutely loved my experience at BU. We won our conference championship my first year and went on to play UCONN in the first round of the NCAA tournament.
“The last three years of my college experience we lost in the conference championship game every year.
“I was a three-year captain of the team, and was awarded All-Conference first team and All-Defensive first team my senior year.
“After graduating from BU with a teaching degree in Physical Education, I then moved to Cork.
“I also worked as a PE teacher in North Pres Secondary School for five years from 2008-2013.”
Rachael played with and against some great players, and teams in her time in Ireland.
“Some of my toughest opponents would have been DCU Mercy, and Glanmire at the time when I played with UL.
“We had a lot of tough games over the years. When I played with Donoughmore I had some great players alongside me, however, I made some lifetime friendships with Fiona Lynch, Deirdre Leahy, Mai O’Leary and Tara Brosnan.
“We also had Stacey Brosnan and Juliet Murphy that were super players as well.
“Then when I was with UL the level was higher, and we had some great athletes such as Louise Galvin, Aoife McDermott and of course the legend Michelle Fahy.
“Michelle is one of the best post players that I have ever played with for sure. Her hands and passing skills were unbelievable for a post player, and we had a great connection on the floor.
“I loved playing with her. My time in Ireland was amazing. I have so many great memories over the years.
“When I first came to Cork and played with Donoughmore we not only won the National League and Cup titles back to back, but we had the best craic off the court as well.
“Then when I was with UL, we again dominated for three years straight.
“Lifting those cup titles with UL in the National Arena will always be up there as some of my best memories.
“But really it is the friendships that I made because of basketball that I will remember most. We had some great times down in Limerick all those years.”
Before Rachael came back to play for Donoughmore for her second season, she got her British passport so she could play as a European player.
That decision was the making of her career, as she went on to play, and have great success with the Great Britain national team.
“I played my first game with GB in Surrey Sports Park in the summer of 2010 against Portugal. I think I am around 113 caps for GB now! I just celebrated my 100th cap last summer when we beat Canada in Manchester, and my family were there to celebrate.
“That was a great night! My top international moments for me would be participating in four Eurobaskets, and especially last summer when we finished fourth at Eurobasket and secured a ticket to the Olympic Qualifiers.
“We were on such a ride during that tournament, and played the best basketball we have ever played. Making it to the semi-finals was unbelievable for GB.
“However, of course making the 2012 London Olympics was simply amazing. Playing against the best players from all over the world on the biggest sporting stage in your home country was insane.
“Then in 2018, we won a silver medal at the Commonwealth Games in Australia. It was like a mini-Olympics.
“Personally, when we beat Canada in the semi-finals and I had one of my best games ever, so that was pretty special.
“However, to stand on the podium with my teammates and receive that silver medal was one of the best and proudest moments of my career.
“I’m just after my ACL surgery at the moment, so I hope to be back playing with my club Basket Namur in Belgium in January, however, if I’m not ready to go then my plan is to be ready for our Eurobasket qualifying game against Belarus with GB in February.
“I will probably finish my playing career in the next few years and I definitely want to stay involved in the game somehow whether that’s coaching, skills training or mentorship I am not quite sure yet.”
Rachael has also spent the last few years getting her coaching badges doing some high-level courses with the GB Organisation.
She is currently an assistant coach to the Irish Women’s National Team.
“I enjoy being a coach and getting to build relationships with the players. I always try to pass on what I have learned over the years and use my experience to help.
“I was an assistant coach with the GB Under 20 women’s team for two years, and most recently an assistant coach with the Irish Senior Women, and cannot wait for next summer when we compete in the Small Countries Championship.
“I’m looking forward to coming back to work with James Weldon, Jillian Hayes, and the rest of the team.
“We have some very talented players and hopefully we can be successful."