It’s always impressive when an athlete from the NWT finds their way down south to keep playing their chosen sport at the post-secondary level.
It’s even more impressive when two athletes who play the same sport end up signing on to play at the same school.
That’s exactly what happened on Monday when it was announced that Lily Newberry and Taya Straker have both agreed to join the women’s basketball team at Mount Saint Vincent University (MSVU) in Halifax for the 2023-24 school year. Both ladies are part of the Yellowknife Eagles high performance program and have been teammates at the club and territorial level for several years.
Their most recent time together as teammates came this past August at the Canada Summer Games in Ontario.
Newberry said she’s excited to see where playing at MSVU will take her.
”Everything I have heard about the MSVU women’s basketball program I have liked,” she said. “It is a competitive group of women who play similar to how I enjoy playing (and) this is one of the reasons I’m so excited to go.”
Mark Forward, head coach of the MSVU women’s program, said he likes the feisty game Newberry will bring to the team.
”She has a competitive fire that fuels her high motor and compete level,” he said. “She is athletic and strong and uses these traits to get to the important spots on the floor. She is responsible academically and is an excellent teammate.”
Straker’s sister, Mali, is part of the women’s basketball team at St. Francis Xavier University, also in Nova Scotia.
”Although I will be far from home, MSVU seems to have the small knit community and family feel that I am looking for in a home away from home,” said Taya. “I am thrilled and honoured to be playing under coach Forward’s leadership and I look forward to being part of such a great program.”
Forward said he likes Straker’s multi-dimensional skills.
”Taya brings a versatile game to floor and being able to play multiple spots on both ends of the floor will fit well in our system,” he said. “She has a good second effort in her game. She excels in the classroom as well and has a great team-first attitude.”
Aaron Wells, who coached both ladies in the Eagles program and at the Canada Summer Games, said having two of his players make the jump to post-secondary basketball is a special feeling.
“Mark was scouting Lily in Ontario and really wanted her to join,” he said. “Taya was sending film around and she was looking for a USports opportunity and Mark felt that’s what she wanted because of her sister. But then she started sending e-mails to CCAA (Canadian Collegiate Athletic Association) schools and that’s how Mark found out about her and he wanted Taya to sign as well.”
Wells said the program at MSVU is one of the best in the country and he has no doubt both Newberry and Straker will become even better players.
With both athletes committed to school for next season, that makes six graduates of the Eagles program who have made the jump to post-secondary teams. Meadow Munroe is at the University of Alberta-Augustana, Grace Christie at St. Thomas University in New Brunswick and Janet Rose at Sir Wilfrid Laurier University in Ontario. Hayley Tait, who played at the University of New Brunswick and Vancouver Island University, has graduated and is back in Yellowknife.
Wells said it’s a sense of pride to see that many players make the jump, and the latest two are special to him.
“I can remember both Lily and Taya being a couple of kids in Grade 8 trying to impress the coach and now here they are,” he said. “They’ve worked hard to get to this point and they proved that you can go far. Now we just need more girls playing basketball.”