Almost 40 years ago, while at Davis High, Therese Cardinet set up all-time basketball great Denise Curry for countless buckets. Their teams went 47-2 and won the first two Sac-Joaquin Section girls titles.
In the late 1970s, Cardinet came to UC Davis and helped the Aggies win two Golden State Conference crowns.
As coach of the university’s old junior varsity squad, Cardinet’s women went 51-9.
She also mentored current UCD coach Jennifer Gross.
Cardinet continues to contribute on the bench as the current edition of the Aggie women roll into the Big West Conference tournament next week.
When I approached Cardinet to see if she’d be interested in talking about Davis basketball past and present, in her typically modest fashion, she wondered “why would anyone want to talk to me?”
Before even asking a question, one can already see what a treasure chest of perspective this Cal Aggie Athletic Hall of Fame member must have.
My time catching up with Cardinet flew by …
For the past eight seasons, Cardinet has been the UCD women’s program’s administrative assistant.
Before that she coached the Aggies under a number of coaches, dating back to the early ’80s. Former UCD coach Sandy Simpson gave Cardinet her first courtside assignment.
“I’ve been able to balance my work and time with the team,” says Cardinet, now in her 29th year instructing physical education in West Sacramento schools. “I love being on the team, regardless of position. I just love Davis and being able to be a part of this program. I feel really fortunate.”
Gross knows what a terrific piece of the Aggie puzzle Cardinet is. Gross loves having people involved who can link her current players with the rich history of the program.
“Therese does more for this program than I think she even realizes,” Gross told me Thursday. “She’s outlasted everybody that’s been involved with this program … since the days of JV and she’s seen it through all the storied coaches of the past — Sandy Simpson, Pam Gill-Fisher and Jorja Hoehn.
“You wonder why all those teams were successful … There’s one common denominator and it’s Therese, right? The Aggie program wouldn’t be the Aggie program without Therese Cardinet.”
Curry recalls Cardinet’s influence in those ground-breaking DHS championship squads.
“Therese was a heckuva player and the most competitive person that I ever had the privilege of playing with,” says Curry, who now lives in Southern California.
Ever? Wow. Curry played at the highest level worldwide. After the Blue Devils, Curry went on to become UCLA’s all-time leading scorer (men or women). She won an Olympic gold medal and played professionally in Europe.
Cardinet and I talked about just how good this year’s Connecticut women are; how distant-past coaches Rick Stromberg and Les Curry would provide hours of gym access and encouragement at DHS; what commitment means; and how attendance should be better at today’s UCD women’s games. But Cardinet especially lights up when she talks about her high school and Aggie playing days.
“Could my Blue Devil team play with the high schools of today?” Cardinet repeats the question. Leaning forward, she answers:
“Absolutely. Playing today, I would have eaten it up. Clearly, Denise could have played in any era, too. All of us could have. Those were very good teams.”
She says the year-round commitment of many basketball programs would have been right up her court. She and Curry have always paid attention to conditioning, so modern training techniques would be second nature.
Reading between the lines of Cardinet’s comments, she implies “bring it on” when talking about how her mid-1970s DHS teams would have fared.
After her Blue Devil career ended, Cardinet kept the pedal to the metal, entertaining Aggie Nation for four seasons at point guard.
In a stunning UCD career, Cardinet scored 846 points, had 182 assists and 329 rebounds despite standing at a listed 5-foot-7. In her senior year, the Aggies went 23-8. All those individual marks were at one point top-10 all-time entries. The 23 wins stood for a while as the most in school history.
The relentless Cardinet smiles when she says nothing has changed over the years about hard work. She says great attitude and terrific work ethic is no farther away than an Aggie women’s practice.
And those traits, she thinks, can carry this UCD squad deep into next week’s Big West tourney — maybe even on to The Big Dance.
“What I’ve noticed, it has a lot to do with the coaching and the receptiveness of the kids,” says Cardinet, who points out that a recent three-game losing streak didn’t demoralize these Aggies. “A couple of rebounds here, a turnover there. We were so close (in the losses) … but nobody in this program was going to give up. They were like ‘What do we do next?’ ”
“Next” is UCD’s current four-game winning streak, which has evened the squad’s season record at 14-14.
“Being positive and pushing forward, pushing forward. I can’t believe — well, I can believe — the positiveness here,” Cardinet continues. “The coaches are just so positive, putting the right spin on everything, moving forward: ‘We’re going to do this.’ ”
While I Have You Here: Near Cardinet’s heart is her involvement with 4RFriends, an animal-support organization that takes in sick or injured dogs and cats.
Herself a foster “mother,” Cardinet credits local veterinarian Jean Rabinowitz for all her great work with the animals.
Cardinet says people can donate or get involved with 4RFriends through the group’s website or on its Facebook page.
— Bruce Gallaudet is a staff writer for The Davis Enterprise. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or 530-320-4456.