Amy Gardner - St. John Fisher's Phenom
During three seasons of Amy Gardner’s four-year college basketball career, her top job was simple: shut down the opposing team’s best player.
“Usually, I’m the one that’s face guarding the other team’s best player,” said Gardner, this season’s Co-Defensive Player of the Year at Division III St. John Fisher College. “That’s been my role since sophomore year. I love the challenge.”
Gardner has had to overcome adversity several times. Persevering is illustrative of Gardner’s approach to life.
At Dryden High School, outside of Ithaca, New York, Gardner played four sports, including four years of basketball. Named most valuable player in back-to-back seasons, Gardner led the team in points, steals and assists.
Gardner wanted to stay local for college and her choices were between Hartwick College and St. John Fisher College.
“Once I visited Fisher, I knew that’s where I wanted to go,” she said of her eventual choice, which is about 90 miles from Ithaca. “If everything lined up perfectly, then I was going to go there. It pretty much did for the most part.”
The importance of a college choice for a high school senior was impacted by a life-changing loss. During Gardner's senior year of high school her mother, Stephanie, passed away after being diagnosed with cancer.
“It was just a struggle,” Gardner said. “My senior year, I was going through a whole bunch of different grief, and I wasn’t sure where I was going to go (to college) and what I was going to do. But she knew I wanted to go to Fisher. That’s what she would’ve wanted me to do, to continue playing basketball. So, I did that, and I’m so happy that I did.”
When Gardner visited Fisher, her mom always went with her. Stephanie met coach Melissa Kuberka before she passed, which was meaningful to Gardner.
“Even though nobody from Fisher other than Coach Kuberka has met my mom, that’s not how I feel at all,” Gardner said. “It’s just a homey vibe and my mom wanted me to go somewhere that would make me feel at home. And that’s exactly what it is.”
Gardner and her two brothers, Trevor and Kevin, acknowledge that their athletic ability was passed along from their mother. Stephanie competed in six Ironman triathlons and the USA sprint triathlon. Although she never reached her ultimate goal of competing in a World Triathlon, she left a positive message with her children by continuing her training during treatment.
“She continued and that has stuck with me that: she can put herself through that kind of stuff so I can continue to push myself to my goals to where I want to be,” Gardner said.
Gardner showed that determination following her freshman season of college. Disappointed in a lack of playing time, she realized the reason for that was on her. Her older brother, Trevor, living at home, helped with Gardner’s off-season training.
“Freshman year, I didn’t play a ton of minutes. I was expecting to come right into college, but it was a different level,” Gardner said. “I’m a very determined person. I was going to do everything I could to basically get to where I wanted to be.”
Trevor had been a role model for Gardner. At Dryden High School, he scored over 1,000 points in basketball and was the quarterback of the football team.
“I always wanted to be like Trevor athletically. He definitely set a high expectation,” she said. “I was very competitive, but I always used his motivation and drive to motivate me. He was so driven and motivated to succeed, so it kind of helped me in my process in terms of never giving up.”
Her older brother was happy to help his younger sister. Striving to excel athletically is a family trait.
“She was very hungry and motivated in the offseason to get stronger, to get faster and to get better. I helped her put some training plans together to reach her goals,” Trevor said. “When we have time together, we love to train, we love to work hard and that’s something we have a lot of fun doing together.”
Spending time together is important for the Gardner children. Along with two brothers, Gardner lived with Brittany Deeley, her cousin, from a young age. Deeley graduated from SUNY Cortland with a psychology degree in December.
“Growing up, there were so many memories,” Trevor said. “In the summer, we had school off and all four of us would spend every day outside together doing stuff,” Trevor said. “We were all athletes. We’re all competitive. I’m really thankful for that, all of us as a family have great relationships.”
The hard work and her brother’s help paid off – Gardner’s minutes increased by 22 per game in her sophomore season.
Gardner was named the championship’s most valuable player of the Empire 8 conference tournament won by the Cardinals. She averaged 8.5 points, five assists, 4.5 steals and nearly three rebounds per game. Gardner’s grade-point average of 3.97 earned her the Empire 8’s Torchbearer Award that goes to the player with the highest cumulative grade-point average among the competing teams.
St. John Fisher, nationally ranked by D3hoops.com for most of 2021-22, had one of the best seasons in school history. The Cardinals finished 26-3 and reached the second round of the NCAA Tournament.
“I think we were so good because there’s not just one player,” Gardner said. “We share the ball; anyone can have a night at any point. It’s not like we’re playing just five girls and that’s it… It’s not like people are coming off the bench and making no impact on the floor. They’re coming in and ready to go.”
As her college career has ended, Gardner has had time to reflect. She said that her mother always showed an incredible amount of support for her athletic endeavors, no matter the sport.
“I think my parents just wanted me to have fun and be happy, but to also enjoy what I’m doing and to do what I can to meet my goals but to make sure that I’m doing it in a way that I’m happy,” she said. “All my parents really ever cared about was just making sure that I’m satisfied with where I am in my career athletically and academically.”
Following in her mother’s footsteps – literally - Gardner recently ran 100 miles in a month to raise money for the American Cancer Society and is already preparing for a half-marathon this upcoming June.
Gardner is majoring in education and mathematics and wants to become a teacher, just like her mother. She wants to make a difference in her students’ lives in the classroom. She has been working at a Pre-K daycare, where she has realized she wants to work with younger kids while being certified in special education.
“It’s just really cool to see all of her hard work pay off and see her get some recognition for these four years,” Trevor said. “I think her greatest quality, and it’s something that she gets from our mom, she was the same way, she just is very social and personable and can make good connections and relationships with so many different types of people.”
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