Yellowknife teenager Hayley Tait will become the first Northwest Territories woman ever to play basketball at U Sports level later this year.

In September, the 18-year-old will join the University of New Brunswick’s Varsity Reds in the Canadian Interuniversity Sport League – branded U Sports since 2016.

The move comes a year after Quest, a small university in Squamish, recruited Tait only to cancel all of its varsity programming before the season began.

“I lost my opportunity to play basketball and I’d stopped looking at other universities,” said Tait. “I’d stopped looking to be identified by other coaches because I thought I had found my spot.

“I am working hard now to get my skills where they need to be to compete at the U Sports level, and to show [coach Jeff Speedy] that he made a good choice.”

‘A milestone’

Tait spent five years with Yellowknife’s high-performance basketball team and represented the NWT at the sport’s national championships, Western Canada Summer Games, and two Arctic Winter Games – including as captain for the 2018 Games in Fort Smith, where the team won silver.

“I had great coaches right from the beginning,” she said.

“First there was Mel Bard. If it wasn’t for her, I wouldn’t be playing at all. Then Nikki Grobbecker, Cole Marshall, Lana Bromley, and Shaun Doherty. They not only taught me how to play, they supported me and they pushed me to become a better player.

“When I hit bumps in the road, they were there to help pick me up, brush me off, and get my head back on straight. I learned something different from each of them.”

Tait is also a referee and has coached junior teams for the past two seasons.

“This is a milestone for Basketball NWT as well as for Hayley,” said Damien Healy, Basketball NWT’s president, in a news release.

“We’re a small jurisdiction with few teams. We’ve got players who come to us with lots of potential, but it can be challenging to create the type of competitive environment consistently needed to develop high-performance athletes in a team sport.

“But it can be done. Hayley’s success shows that with lots of hard work, and good supports, NWT players can go on to play at the university level.”

The Varsity Reds play in U Sports’ Atlantic conference, where rivals will include Dalhousie, UPEI, and St Francis Xavier.