The NyaStrong Warriors are, from left, Isabella Vazquez, Emalyn Thornton, Jenavicia Cortez, Amelia Mohrweis and Hattie Curry. The team of five went undefeated in the Puyallup Parks and Recreation basketball league among second grade girls and brought home the championship to Yelm.

Who are the roughest, toughest second-graders you’ll ever meet? What team was named Puyallup Parks and Recreation League champions?

The local NyaStrong Warriors basketball team, that’s who.

Earlier this month, the team of five rallied to a 7-0 league record over seven other Puyallup teams, ultimately taking the championship title. Overall, the team went 10-1.

This is the first season this team has played under their new moniker as the NyaStrong Warriors. They were previously known as the Yelm Warriors.

Head Coach Richard Durham said he was inspired to change the name after hearing the story of Nya Faith Jaquez, a former Yelm High School student who fought colon cancer and united her community. She died in 2016.

Durham, who lost his 24-year-old son back in 2014, knows what it’s like to lose someone close. Her story touched him, he said.

“The girls, they’re 8 years old. They don’t know the details of the struggling, but they know how much of a fighter she was … I thought it’d be good for the community that nobody forgot Nya,” Durham said. “The family was on board with us and I think it brought a positive spark.”

Durham said he’s been thoroughly impressed by his girls’ performance this year.

The team from Yelm netted a total 634 points to their opponents’ 88 points. The Warriors also held teams to a maximum of 18 points, and even shut out Puyallup Lynx in the early season, 92-0.

When the team started back in September, Durham said there were about 20 players. While the team’s numbers slowly dwindled over the first couple months, the passion for the game never did.

“They’re kids that have never played the game before and now they’re champions,” said Durham, who has been coaching in this league for five years and has many more years as a coach on his resume. “It’s incredible. I’ve been coaching for a long time, and I’ve never seen kids just take to it and do such an incredible thing.”

The Warriors are power forward Amelia Mohrweis, of Lackamas Elementary, center Emalyn Thornton, of McKenna Elementary, point guard Hattie Curry, of Prairie Elementary, and Fort Stevens Elementary’s Jenavicia Cortez and Isabella Vazquez.

All of them are “good, tough, smart kids,” Durham says, who have shown an unyielding dedication to learning the sport. Their parents have also been extremely supportive, their drive helping motivate this small group of girls.

Durham said he’s especially impressed that they were able to take on teams with nearly twice as many players.

“Of all the teams I’ve ever coached, this group is the harder working group I’ve ever had … And they’re having fun,” he said.

He’s hoping he can coach this team through eighth grade.

The next events they have, pending coronavirus-caused closures, are the Spokane HoopFest in June and the Capital City in July.

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