Taya Straker (left) and Lily Newberry. Photo: Supplied
Two Yellowknife students have committed to play basketball on the same university team come the fall of 2023.
Lily Newberry and Taya Straker, who have been playing basketball since they were eight and six, respectively, will play for the Mount Saint Vincent University Mystics while attending the school in Halifax.
Newberry was approached by the university’s coach, Mark Forward, while playing at the Canada Summer Games in Ontario earlier this summer.
“He approached me and my coach and he said that he was really interested in me and would love if I considered playing for them,” she told Cabin Radio.
“I had never really heard of the school or considered going that far from Yellowknife until then, but then I started exploring it more and decided I wanted to go there.”
Straker heard about the team through Newberry, who helped her teammate apply, though the two didn’t think it would be possible to both successfully join the same team.
“When we talked about it, we never thought playing on the same team would be a possibility,” said Newberry.
“But after both of us committing, I feel like it’s going to be like a family member coming with me.”
The girls have been friends for eight years. Graduating from high school, saying goodbye to friends and family members, and moving across the country for school seems less nerve-wracking, they said, knowing they’re going together.
The move will mark Newberry’s first time living in a community larger than Yellowknife, and Straker’s first move ever.
“I’m nervous to be leaving Yellowknife but it’s a smaller school, which will be nice, even though it’s in a bigger city,” said Straker.
“When I reached out to coach Forward, he kind-of just understood that Lily and I are a package deal. We’ve been playing on the same team since Grade 5 and going to the same school together makes it so much easier to leave Yellowknife.
“We’re super excited to start a new journey together and also still be playing basketball.”
The girls’ current coach, Aaron Wells, says the Yellowknife Eagles basketball team will soon have six alumni playing at post-secondary level. Though northern students continuing in the game at university is not rare, he says two going together is less common.
“Schools don’t often have very many openings year after year,” he explained.
“Who they take is based off of how they play, what roles they need to fill on their teams, and whatnot. So it’s quite unique that Taya and Lily, who are different types of players, got offered to the same school.”
Wells has been coaching the two since they were 12.
“It’s always special when a player commits to a university. I’m really happy for them because it shows they had a goal and they continued to work hard,” he said.
“The growth that I’ve seen in them over the last five years, as players and as people, has been so awesome to watch. I’m so proud of them and excited to watch their futures unfold.”