These days, Zoom meetings have become a tool to help connect people to their lives in more normal times.
For Cassidy Gardner, it helped her make a fresh start.
Gardner, a former Prairie High girls basketball standout, transferred from Portland State to Central Washington last week, and a little electronic face time helped seal the deal.
“The final selling point that got me to commit there was I had Zoom call meeting with the team,” Gardner said. “And after that, I felt like I could see myself hanging out with them. They were really welcoming me and wanted to get to know me, and they really wanted me to join the team. After that call, I was like ‘Mom, I think I know what I want to do.’ ”
It ended a whirlwind couple of weeks for Gardner.
On April 13, she tweeted that she had decided to enter the transfer portal after her freshman season at Portland State.
“After talking with my family, I just couldn’t see myself at Portland State for another three years,” Gardner said Wednesday. “It really had nothing to do with basketball. I knew my role on the team would be bigger than it was this year. I loved the coaches and I loved the team. But it was more about I couldn’t continue to see myself living in downtown Portland. … It just wasn’t what I thought it would be.”
After entering the transfer portal, offers started coming in fast and furious.
“I was really stressed,” she said. “It was a very overwhelming thing. The day I went on the (transfer) portal, 10 minutes later I had coaches texting me. I turned off my notifications on everything for like two days. I was like ‘I don’t want to even listen right now. I just want to sit and think what I want in a new school.’ ”
And then she talked to friend and former club teammate Taylor Stephens, a La Center graduate who just finished her freshman year at Central.
“After Taylor and I talked, her coach reached out to me,” Gardner said. “Then I started to feel like this was the right fit for me.”
In Ellensburg, Gardner believes she found the college atmosphere she was searching for all along.
“That was the first thing I asked?” Gardner said. “Was it a good college atmosphere? Does the community support the school? Is Ellensburg a college town? And the answers I got were ‘yes, yes, yes.’ ”
Gardner was an All-Region standout at Prairie High School, helping the Falcons win the 3A state title in 2019.
Gardner appeared in 29 of 32 games for the Vikings her freshman season, averaging 17.6 minutes and 4.9 points a game.
“I learned a lot at Portland State,” Gardner said. “It was a big learning experience for me to be playing with a bunch of very talented players. They all taught me a lot. It was fun to play in Big Sky tournament, getting to be able to contribute. I learned about the player I am and the player I can become.”
Gardner appreciated her season playing Division-I basketball at Portland State and considered staying at Division I.
“I was looking at other Division-I schools that had reached out to me,” Gardner said. “But it got to the point when I decided I didn’t want to sit out a year.”
Currently, players moving from one NCAA Division I program to another must sit out a year, although a rule change is being considered. By moving to Division II at Central, Gardner will be eligible to play right away.
“That was a big deciding factor for me,” she said. “Central was a good fit for me everywhere. And I get to play right away, so it checked all the boxes.”
So last Friday, 11 days after announcing she was entering the transfer portal, Gardner officially signed with Central.
And she already feels right at home.
“Once I committed, all the other girls on the team, they all texted me, saying ‘congratulations and we’re really excited for you to come join our team,’ ” said Gardner, who will continue to study Early Childhood Education at Central.