Hard work pays off for Owen junior

Chesney Gardner eclipses the 1,000-point mark for the Warlassies' forward

Fred McCormick
Black Mountain News

You won’t find a lot of athletes like Owen High School’s Chesney Gardner.

Her competitiveness fuels her desire to work hard to improve her game. That commitment to growing as a basketball player paid off in a big way Dec. 15 when the junior forward picked up her 1,000th career point for the Warlassies.


Surrounded by head coach Aaron Fernandez, left, and assistant coach Chasity Simpson, Owen High School junior Chesney Gardner holds the ball commemorating her 1,000th career point.

Gardner wasn't hard to spot on the court when the Warlassies, 7-2 on the season at the time, practiced for their game against former Western Highlands Conference foe Hendersonville Dec. 14. Her combination of size, strength and athleticism makes her impossible to ignore on the court. 

Chesney Gardner, right, fights for position in the post against teammate Dee Graves during the team's final practice before  the Warlassies' 46-39 victory over Hendersonville on Dec. 15, when Gardner recorded her 1,000th point for Owen.

It's what you can't see that makes her so hard to stop, according to Chasity Simpson, an assistant coach for the Warlassies for the past five years. 

"She's a go-getter, an all-around physical athlete who strives to be the best," Simpson said. "She loves the game and has no problem putting in the time."

For instance, Gardner shoots 500 jump shots every day. "Basketball is year-round for me," she said. "I eat, sleep and breathe basketball."

She has been around the game her entire life. Some might say it's in her blood.

Her grandmother, Susan Gardner (formerly Blankenship), was a member of the Owen Warlassies dynasty team that won 90 straight games from 1964-70. Her uncle Jesse Gardner, who graduated in 1998, scored about 1,700 points in his career as a Warhorse. Her uncle John Gardner, a 1994 grad, racked up about 1,500 as a member of the team. 

Her aunt, Ann Marie (Gardner) Hammond, scored more than 1,300 career points for the Warlassies in her career. Like her niece, she eclipsed the 1,000-point mark as a junior. 

"I’m am super-proud of this girl. I definitely see glimpses of myself in her, but she is a lot stronger than I was," Hammond said. "But what I’m most proud of is her character and resiliency. ... To say she is tough is an understatement. She's an all-around great kid."

Reaching the 1,000-point milestone was a relief for Gardner. 

"When my uncle (Jesse) hit 1,000 points I was really little, and when my aunt scored (her 1,000th point) I wasn't very big either," she said. "It's one of those things that's always been a big dream for me, something I can check off my bucket list. My aunts and uncles are some of my idols, so I want to be one step closer to being like them."

Chesney Gardner, left, chases down an errant pass during a recent practice. The Warlassies' junior forward would pick up her 1,000th career point the following night

When Gardner first stepped on the court her freshman year as a member of the varsity team, she wasn't sure this moment would come.

"I was terrified I wouldn't make varsity," she said of her first couple of games. "After the first couple of games I realized I wasn't a little pup, I was a medium-size dog now."

Jesse Gardner was so confident his niece wouldn't eclipse his career points total that, before her first season as a Warlassie, he sweetened the pot for her. 

"I got a $1,000 wager with her that she doesn't break my scoring total," he said. "I made it when she was a freshman, and now I am starting to get a little nervous."

He should be.

Chesney Gardner averaged 15.9 points per game as a freshman (she scored in double digits in all but three contests). She posted nearly identical numbers as a sophomore, completing her first two seasons with the Warlassies with 846 points. 

She was 13 points shy of 1,000 heading into the Dec. 14 game against Hendersonvile, a team against whom she had scored a total of 67 points in four contests. 

She picked up 21 points and 13 rebounds, her fourth double-double of the young season. Gardner acknowledged the role her teammates, past and present, played in her accomplishment. 

"They helped me get here," she said. "They help me keep my head up when things get tough, and they work so hard to get me the ball when I'm in position to score."

First-year Warlassies head coach Aaron Fernandez said the talent on the roster around Gardner has certainly helped amplify her scoring prowess. 

"When you have talent around you, it's really hard for other teams to just key in on you," he said. "Her teammates help her tremendously by playing to their strengths in their individual roles."

That chemistry has the Warlassies off to a strong start this season. They opened the season with three straight wins and, with the win over Hendersonville, improved to 8-2 overall heading into their Dec. 18 game against Asheville (results not available as of press deadline). 

The team's early success has energized Gardner and her teammates. 

"We're starting to play up to our full potential," she said. "It's been an eye-opening experience for all of us. Coach (Aaron Fernandez) really has us realizing what we can do."

As the latest Gardner to notch a career milestone for Owen, Chesney hasn't found her potential's ceiling yet. 

"I'd love to score more than 1,600 points," she said. "And I really want to grab 1,000 rebounds in my career. Reaching goals like that will require hard work, but you have to want it or it won't happen."