Two Oak Bay High grads are taking a shared love of sport to the next level. Danica Robirtis and Kayla Dinh met on the basketball court six years ago when they were in Grade 8 at Monterey middle school.
“You get to know each other when you’re on a team together,” Robirtis says.
“We played a lot of minutes together in Grade 10 …” Dinh says.
“As time went by, we became closer …” Robirtis adds.
“Now we’re best friends,” Dinh finishes the shared sentence.
The two pass the ball back and forth as easily as their conversation.
“We’re pretty in-tune on the court, and I guess that’s why we’re like that when we’re coaching,” Dinh says.
“We’re best friends on and off the court,” Robirtis adds.
Robirtis is the head coach of the Oak Bay junior girls basketball team, while Dinh is the assistant coach. The pair co-coach the U13 Monterey Storm Night League team and Dinh is also one of the assistant coaches of the Oak Bay junior boys team. “I’m pretty sure I spend more time in the gym now than when I was playing,” Dinh says with an easy laugh.
“I don’t see Kayla as an assistant coach,” Robirtis is quick to jump in. “She’s my co-pilot … anyone else, maybe I’d see them as an assistant, but Kayla I see as an equal.”
Each of them spends eight to 10 hours a week coaching basketball, at practices, games and even scrimmaging with the Oak Bay High senior girls team to help keep them in shape. “There’s not a lot of competition, so we come and help them out,” Robirtis says.
“If we’re beating them, they’re not happy and we’re not happy,” Dinh adds. “We want them to win.”
The Oak Bay senior girls won the Island championships and took the bronze at provincials last week.
Robirtis and Dinh also had a successful year on the court. Their junior girls team placed sixth at provincials and the U13 Monterey Storm Night League team won the city finals after beating the Gordon Head Hurricanes. “We lost one, then we won the second one and it became a sudden death scenario – we ended up pulling it off,” Robirtis says.
“It’s a great group of kids,” Dinh says. “I’ve never coached younger boys before and the amount of energy they have is incredible. They have so much energy they’re asking to run lines. They’re really great kids and we’ve seen so much improvement in every single kid this year. It’s so rewarding.”
Robirtis agrees. “We’ve had so much positive feedback from the kids, parents, teachers. At first I was very, very nervous. I thought, ‘Am I in over my head? Will the kids respect us?’ But it’s been the best experience so far, other than being a player.”
Robirtis and Dinh are pleased their first year coaching has been a successful one.
“We work really well together,” Dinh says. “Danica cheers the girls on, gets mad at them when she needs to, and I’m the one drawing up the plays.”
They also credit their past coaches for instilling in them a passion for the game.
“We had good role models growing up,” says Robirtis, who notes Senior girls’ coach Rob Kinnear as a great mentor and supporter. “In my coaching now, I take the key things I learned and take the best things from them that worked for me. I can’t complain seeing how successful we’ve been this year.”
“Sandy Jones, my very first basketball coach,” Dinh says. “She coached my night league team when I was younger and is not only the reason why I was able to begin playing, but also the reason why I continued. I had such a positive experience with her. She has remained very supportive over the years and is also the reason why I was so excited to start coaching the Monterey boys night league – I wanted to be able to give kids the same great experience she gave me as a young player.”
While neither continues to play the sport on a team, both plan on coaching as long as possible.
“I knew there would be an opening (to coach) at Oak Bay, but I thought I’d be assisting,” says Robirtis, who is studying education at UVic.
“I tried out (at Camosun) but got cut. I wanted to stay involved so I decided to put myself into coaching,” Dinh, who attends Camosun, says. Her younger brother Jacob plays on the junior boys team.
“I’ll always follow his team, whether it’s from the bench or in the stands,” she says. “I love coaching the girls. I think Danica and I have something to teach them. I’d like to stay on with the junior girls.”
Robirtis hopes to keep coaching at Oak Bay High, and eventually teach there.
“My ultimate dream would be to come back to teach and continue coaching at Oak Bay High,” she says. “It would mean the world to me because Oak Bay truly excels in all school areas: leadership, athletics, the arts and academics. The teaching faculty at Oak Bay is incredible and I would love nothing more than to join that list of the most inspiring teachers I have had the pleasure of knowing and been taught by throughout my high school years.”