She is McMaster’s all-time leader in points and steals. Third on the Ontario University Athletics’ all-time scoring list. A two-time U Sports All-Canadian first team member. OUA player of the year, OUA Defensive Player of the Year and, as of last week, the first Marauder ever to win the Nan Coop U Sports National Player of the Year.
You would be hard-pressed to find a better resumé in all of McMaster history, or have a conversation about the greatest of all-time without putting Danielle Boiago at the top of the list. But as bright as the spotlight on Boiago has been since she first arrived at McMaster, there is more to her than the titles beneath her name.
Never one to boast about her accomplishments, there is also a player, a person, who has been a part of her program and this community for five years, known only by the people closest to her.
So as we look back on an incredible career, it seems only fair to introduce the person few fans ever got the chance to meet.
The Role Model
“I remember before I signed with McMaster I went to go see the girl’s team play against Brock at Brock University,” said Jelena Mamic, a fourth-year guard on the women’s team.
“As I was sitting in the stands, Danielle automatically stood out to me. Not only was she this first year starting for a varsity team, she was an absolute threat on the court. I remember Mac had the final shot of the game in order to win or lose and Danielle sank a 3-point shot that was probably three feet away from the actual three-point line with seconds left. After seeing that I knew I’d want to play with her and learn from her. She had the confidence and skill of any fifth year player and she was only in her first year.”
As easy as it is to see the influence Boiago has had on her teammates on the court (averaging 4.3 assists per game, third most in the OUA this year), but it these moments that have often gone overlooked. Having such a gifted player can be enough to grab the attention of other talented recruits, drawing like-minded individuals to the program and creating depth in the team, something Boiago has done from the start.
“Danielle was a highly touted recruit for both Canadian and American schools,” said women’s basketball head coach Theresa Burns. “At the end of the day I think she decided she had what she needed here in terms of basketball and academics… and it has turned out wonderfully for the program. To have someone of her calibre here that people could watch and see not just read about if she had gone somewhere else… I think that was good for the basketball community.”
Having coached Boiago alongside assistant coach Anne Marie Thuss for the duration of her career, Burns felt first-hand the impact that watching Danielle could have from when she was still in high school.
“From the first time I saw her play we knew she was special,” said Burns. “Special players have that aura about them on the court, she is pure scorer she could always find a way to put the ball in the net. She could score inside outside, she had that passion and that drive… you could see it from day one.”
“I think the thing that will always stick out to me about Danielle the most is her dedication,” said Rachael Holmes, a fellow fifth-year guard.
“Whether it was a Sunday afternoon after a weekend, 7 a.m. on a Tuesday in the off-season or an hour after practice, you could always find Danielle in the gym.”
When you see someone as skilled as Boiago, it can be easy to assume that their level of play is just a product of their natural talent. But talent can only take a player so far if it is not developed. With a tireless work ethic, Danielle was always the type of person to keep pushing herself further, and nothing speaks to that better than her progress over the years. Since 2012, Danielle has improved in almost every statistical category including assists (2.0 to 4.3), three-point shots per game (1.9 to 2.7), points per game (15 to 19) and field goal percentage (29.7 to 44.1).
Danielle automatically stood out to me. Not only was she this first year starting for a varsity team, she was an absolute threat on the court.
“There is a lot of talent in the OUA,” said Holmes. “There are a lot of extremely hard workers in the OUA. When you combine those two attributes that is when you get the really special players — that is how Danielle created a tremendous McMaster career. She became the best because she was talented but never satisfied, she worked every day to elevate her game and elevate the team.”
Take Boiago’s play on the defensive side of the ball as an example. Coming out of high school scouts knew she could score, she was fast and smart but her skill defensively still offered room for improvement. Standing at just five feet and seven inches, some might have questioned how far it could go. But since then Boiago has seen her total number of steals improve from 2.4 to 3.3 per game, best in the OUA. Even more impressive, her rebounds per game improved from 4.5 to 7.0, bested only by players more than half a foot taller.
“She grew every year,” said Coach Burns. “She was never satisfied, always trying to be better and add something to her game. In terms of her skillset, her defense, her leadership… she always added something. That is her work ethic. That is her drive.”
“In every practice and game that we’ve had Danielle always shares her input and gives advice in order for her teammates to improve,” said Mamic. “In practice if she’s defending me or any other player and she sees something we could have done better or smarter she instantly tells us. That’s just the type of person she is. Yes she cares about her own game but she also cares just as much about her teammates, if not more.”
Working with Boiago meant anyone on the team had the chance to improve in the same way that she was. But even teaching was a skill honed overtime.
“In her first year she was pretty quiet, didn’t say a lot,” said coach Burns. “You could see leadership skills but it was more actions providing the leadership… but [since then] she has become more confident. You can see that maturity as a person; she can talk to her teammates and say what needs to be said.”
Hard to believe that someone who speaks volume on the court would ever be considered “quiet,” but personality is just one more aspect of who Boiago has grown to become. Whether it is joking around with teammates after a game or pepping up a rookie who had a rough night, it is the small gestures of her demeanor that really shape the relationships around her.
“It was during exam time in December and Danielle and I had some time to shoot around and workout in the gym.” said Mamic. “We got some shots up for a bit, but then we both made the workout into a competition, where the first one to make five pull ups on each side would win. Even though I don’t like to admit it, Danielle did win… plenty of times. But during the whole thing we would bicker back and forth and try to throw each other off rhythm. We would be mad and frustrated if we did not win a round… it was great… That’s what Danielle did for me. She pushed me, not just on that day, but every day. I will forever be grateful for that.”
“What’s better than being able to play basketball with my close friend and the U Sports Player of the Year?”
After one of the best seasons women’s basketball has seen Boiago and her team’s playoff run came to a heartbreaking end this year after a one-point loss to Carleton in the OUA semi-finals. Looking back on an athlete’s career, it is always how they play in the face of adversity that seems to be the most telling, and her performance that night was no exception.
“In the game against Carleton, I remember us being down and looking around and thinking ‘this is going to be tough,’” said Linnaea Harper, a third-year forward. “But as I looked at Dani… her eyes still had that belief in them that they always had. [my belief] we could do it was reassured.”
“I think that’s another thing special about her: her leadership didn’t always necessarily come from her words, but from her confidence. She is very modest, but every time she stepped on the court, she and everyone else around her knew she was the best player on the court and that it would be a battle and fueled our team. In that Carleton game, you could tell the fire in her was the brightest it had ever been. Every time Carleton would make a play, you’d better know that Dani was coming to the other end to drill a three, an and-one, — you name it, she would lead us there.”
Unfortunately, it was not meant to be as the team fell 55-54 in regulation. But even after a game that could have easily been the OUA final, with a result that could have fallen either way, Boiaga was not the player to just walk away on the strength of her own efforts. She took the time to rally her team and leave them with a message that with resonate for years to come.
“Along with the other graduating seniors, [their message] was that we believe in our hearts we gave it everything we had,” said Burns. “We are so happy to be a part of this… and [we] hope they left the program in a better place. I know for Danielle she certainly has. What she has accomplished is just phenomenal. To put up the stats she has, to be the leader in points and steals…it is just crazy how amazing it is. To say we are proud of her… it doesn’t even come close.”
“One game I remember taking a charge,” said third-year guard Erin Burns. “Danielle was the first one to sprint all the way from across the floor to pick me up and give me pat on the back and high five. That is just the kind of player and team leader that she is. If a teammate falls down she is there to pick you up.”
For all of her incredible games and statistical performances, if there is one quality that stats will never be able to capture, it is way Boiaga treats her teammates. It doesn’t matter who you ask, if there is one thing every story about her has in common it is the genuine love she shared for those around her.
“She is just a really special person. As a third-year walk-on who doesn’t get many minutes, whenever I did something well on the court, Danielle would be the first one on her feet giving me a standing ovation and smiling from ear to ear,” said Adrienne Peters. While she was very humble about her own accomplishments, she never let someone else’s accomplishment go unrecognized… I think that’s one quality that sets her apart from other competitors in our league.
So as we say goodbye to one of the best of all-time, it is only right that we look back on the person beyond the numbers. The role-model, the workhorse, the teammate, the friend.
Farewell Danielle, we hardly knew thee.