Tayla Jackson is going to the happiest place on earth.
“It is 20 minutes from Disneyland so I am going to get a year-round pass,” enthused the 17-year-old.
“I can’t wait.”
Jackson, one of the top female basketball players in the province, has verbally committed to join the UC Irvine Anteaters basketball program next year.
She can sign her national letter of intent in November.
Jackson visited the UC Irvine campus last month, one of five official visits she took, all of which were in the state of California. The other schools she visited were San Diego State, Cal State Northridge, the University of San Francisco and St. Mary’s College of California, which is just outside San Francisco.
Locally, Simon Fraser University was in the mix as well.
But the Anteaters offered everything she was looking for.
In addition to offering her the chance to earn a degree in education — as opposed to first getting her liberal arts degree and then switching to education — the basketball program seemed like the perfect fit for the aspiring elementary school teacher.
“I had a great time and really enjoyed myself,” she said about her visit, which was the second of the five she took.
“I fell in love with the coaches, the girls and I knew I would fit in really with it.
“They needed someone with my size so there will be lots of opportunity for me to play as a freshman.”
Jackson is six-foot-two.
She was also impressed by coach-to-be, Doug Oliver.
“The coach is really experienced and really wise,” Jackson said.
“He reminds me a lot of Mr. (Neil) Brown.”
Jackson said it is more excitement than relief to finally have the decision taken care of.
There were days this summer where she wouldn’t eat dinner until 9 p.m. after long exhausting days of phone calls with college coaches.
Complicating her problems was the fact that once her club team, BC’s Finest began entering tournaments in the U.S., more schools from back east began contacting her.
“I struggled in August to keep an open mind with new schools that had contacted me,” she said, adding that the hardest part was telling coaches ‘no.’
“At times it would get extremely overwhelming, but for the most part, I just feel lucky for all the opportunities that I had,” Jackson said.
With that out of the way, the focus now shifts to her final year of high school at Brookswood Secondary and helping the Bobcats defend their B.C. senior girls AAA basketball championship. Jackson has played on the senior team since she was in Grade 8.
“I think I will have a different role this year,” she said. “We have a lot of young ones coming up (so) I feel like I have more of a ‘mom’ role this year.”
With Jackson and star point guard Aislinn Konig — the MVP of the provincial championships last year despite being in just Grade 10 — teams will be focused on stopping the dynamic pair, meaning their teammates will need to take advantage of the opportunities presented.
“There is a huge difference between junior and senior ball (and) we need them to step up,” Jackson said.
“The goal is to obviously win provincials. It will be a long hard journey, but I think we can do it.”