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By Jacob Dimond/[email protected]

The Tenino and Nisqually Valley-based NyaStrong Warriors basketball program continued its winning streak in late June when the team defeated five other programs en route to becoming fourth-division champions at Hoopfest in Spokane.

Hoopfest is considered the largest 3-on-3 tournament in the world. However, the strong competition was no match for the brave fourth-graders of the NyaStrong Warriors program.

After the tournament victory, head coach Richard Durham asked the girls three questions about their performance in Spokane.

First, he asked them if any of the games were harder than practice, to which they answered “no.” Then he asked them which championship they liked best, to which the girls answered “the next one.” His last question to the team was if the championship was worth the hard work, to which they unanimously answered “yes.”

“There were a lot of things to do in preparation for Hoopfest. Once we got there and settled in, it started to be fun,” Durham told the Nisqually Valley News. “We’re a very tight-knit, networked program, so the whole trip worked out great for us. In addition to us, the Tenino third-graders, the ‘Lil Hoopers,’ won their group. It was a weekend for the Tenino junior girls’ basketball team.”

Describing their path to victory at the fourth-grade Hoopfest tournament, Durham said NyaStrong Warriors Academy (NWA) took “a tough path” to tournament victory after suffering a loss in their second game of the tournament.

“The score was 9-8 in their favor. They called the game off with just over five minutes left on the clock,” Durham said. “The bottom line is the girls did a great job. I didn’t do a good enough job as a coach. To win the championship, we would have had to win five games in a row and beat the team we lost to in the second game twice. And that’s exactly what we did.”

Durham described the final as “the entire tournament in a nutshell.” He said play was stopped after 12 minutes due to rain.

“The uncertainty of whether they were going to cancel the game because of the weather was stressful. When play resumed, the girls held the final eight minutes of the game scoreless,” Durham said. “We scored the tying shot with about four minutes to go and then scored the game-winning shot with about a minute and 30 seconds to go. It was an incredible team effort.”

Durham added that some of his fondest memories of the trip include how close the girls were on and off the field, how they played for each other and how their team chemistry continued to grow with each practice and each game.

“The chemistry on and off the field is incredible. The whole weekend was a blast,” Durham said. “The looks on the faces of the girls and their parents/families after we won the championship. There are no words to describe how amazing it was to see that in person. When you see it come full circle, when you put in all the work and win a championship – that’s a very special moment. Take care of them and make sure they have fun. Everything is going according to plan.”

Kora Hadaller said the trip to Spokane was fun and she enjoyed spending time with her teammates and family at the largest 3-on-3 tournament in the world.

“It was like a journey. We won and then lost the second game, so we had to go back up and play that team twice to win it all,” Hadaller said. “My favorite moment was when we won the championship game because it was raining and we were so tired and wet, but we fought and came together as a team to win.”

Teammate Janna Perkins also described the trip to Spokane as a fond memory. She said she went to the tournament with her best friend Kora and her brother Knox.

“It felt like my teammates had a lot of fun and worked really hard for it,” Perkins said.

“My favorite moment was being with my family and friends and seeing how much fun they were having.”

The twins on the team, Emily and Emma Ruiz, both said their time in Spokane was fun. Emily said that despite the long drive, she was happy to be able to spend time with her family and teammates and create new memories.

“It was fun to be with my teammates and have dinner together,” Emily said. “Winning Hoopfest was amazing. We needed each other to win. My favorite moment was when me and my teammates had fun in between games, enjoying treats and spending time with our other team friends, Swishsters.”

Her sister Emma said she was excited and nervous to compete in the Hoopfest tournament. Despite this, Emma said she made many new memories by meeting teammates and family.

“A new great memory was coming up from the bottom and winning the tournament. A bad memory was the second game, but that memory gave me the strength to come out and play better,” Emma said. “Winning the tournament felt really good. We played against the same team as the second game and I was happy about our comeback. My best moment was winning the championship, seeing my teammates working really hard and my family being there.”

The twins’ mother, Rebecca Ruiz, said Emily and Emma joined the NWA program in April and since then she has seen an evolution not only in their basketball skills but also in their characters.

“NyaStrong has built confidence, responsibility and commitment. They practice teamwork and sportsmanship on and off the field,” Rebecca said. “NyaStrong is a place and a team where they can practice this. I have seen growth and they are happy.”

Sammi Hadaller’s mother, Kora Hadaller, said her daughter has benefited from the NWA program, gaining skills on and off the court.

“She has improved her ball handling, defense and overall determination on the court tremendously. Additionally, it has helped her learn to be part of something bigger than herself,” Sammi said. “She has developed camaraderie with her teammates and learned to be a leader through NWA. And finally, it is a huge benefit that she has been given tools to overcome adversity.”

Kimberly Perkins, Janna’s mother, said the NWA program provides Janna with the opportunity to practice and learn the game “that is close to her heart” with her friends.

“The skills she learns will be transferable to other sports and activities in her life, while also building lasting relationships and memories,” Kimberly said.

Durham added that the 2024 NWA program is a new team and that Hoopfest was the first game and tournament together for the girls.

After the team won its division at Hoopfest in Spokane, Durham asked the girls three questions.

First, he asked them if any of the games were harder than practice, to which they answered “no.” Then he asked them which championship they liked best, to which the girls answered “the next one.” His last question to the team was if the championship was worth the hard work, to which they unanimously answered “yes.”

“We have prepared with determination,” he said. “We make sure that our training is harder than our games, and that has always helped us so far.”