The Stingers women’s basketball guard discusses stepping up as a leader this basketball season
There is a world of difference between the rookie Areej Burgonio was in 2018 and the veteran star she became this past season.
Going into the 2022-23 season, Stingers guard Burgonio was one of two senior players in a young team. It was also the first time in her four-year career with the Stingers that she had to take on a leadership role.
“I had such great strong role models, and I was put in the position where I have to be that strong role model now,” said Burgonio.
It was a challenging adjustment at first for the Stingers playmaker who was previously known to keep more to herself.
“Being patient, being able to lead on and off the court, mentoring my rookies until they can be better basketball players while also keeping in mind that I have to perform as a point guard, it was tough,” she said. “But I’m glad I had that opportunity.”
Burgonio started playing basketball when she was 12 years old. Before coming to Concordia, she played for Crestwood Preparatory School, a Toronto high school with a well-established basketball program.
She went on to compete in a tournament in New York with her team from Crestwood, where she met Stingers head coach Tenicha Gittens for the first time.
“Out of all the places, coach [Gittens] was there,” recalled Burgonio. “At first, given the location, I didn’t expect her to introduce herself from a Montreal university. Not going to lie, I [had] never heard of Concordia up until I met her.”
For Gittens, it was Burgonio’s attitude on the court that stood out to her.
“She [was] one of the smallest players on the court, but there was just something about her grit,” said Gittens. “I love the way she didn’t back down.”
Burgonio stands at five-feet tall, but Gittens didn’t think that mattered.
“She was one of the biggest players in terms of heart, aggressiveness and competitiveness,” she added. “That’s something I knew we needed on our team.”
The two stayed in contact, and when Burgonio eventually enrolled in sociology at Concordia, she was invited to join the women’s basketball team after being scouted by the coaching staff while playing in Toronto.
As a 17-year-old rookie, Burgonio was surrounded by a very mature and strong team.
“I had to grow up fast,” Burgonio said. “When you’re surrounded by so many people like Caroline Task and Myriam Leclerc, you conform to their standards, which is excellence and nothing less.”
That year, Myriam Leclerc was a rookie guard like Burgonio, and Caroline Task was a third-year guard.
Burgonio went on to be named to the RSEQ All-Rookie team. Four years later, she was named to the RSEQ’s First Team All-Star and finished the season as the second-best scorer in the RSEQ.
Burgonio’s teammates pointed out that, throughout her career, the star player matured into a better and smarter athlete with extensive knowledge of plays and a great vision of the court. She also became more outspoken, especially this season.
“She had to be one of our top scorers, had to be one of our leaders defensively and be one of our facilitators as well,” said Gittens. “There is no player that I’ve coached at Concordia that has had more responsibility put on their shoulders and has stepped up to it.”
Serena Tchida, the team’s captain and a third-year forward, said that Burgonio abruptly went from being the sixth player to playing 40 minutes per game.
“This year, we didn’t have anyone on top of us to rely on so we had to take on leadership ourselves,” said Tchida. “She really embraced her role, especially when I injured myself and I wasn’t there to help her anymore.”
For the rookies of the team, having a veteran like Burgonio made all the difference.
“She wants to set an example for us,” said rookie forward Fabiola Lamour. “She takes the time to explain plays and she makes sure everyone is on the same page.”
Lamour recalled Burgonio often saying “my money’s on us,” her way of showing her team she believed in them. She also noted that Burgonio had made her feel welcomed on the team from the get-go.
Although Burgonio is a senior, she still has one year of eligibility left with the Stingers. She noted that, given she is only 22, she isn’t ready to walk away just yet.
“I do have goals, for example, going on the national team from the Philippines and playing professionally,” she said. “But at the same time I know that this chapter isn’t fully over if I still have that one year.”