Nyastrong Warriors Academy wins second annual Tenino Middle School 3-on-3 championship

Third graders learn life lessons through basketball, community figures


Since becoming the Nyastrong Warriors Academy (NWA) in late 2019, the girls youth basketball organization has gone 55-5. 

On Sunday, Feb. 25, at Tenino Middle School, the third grade girls picked up their first wins and tournament championship this season as a unit.

NWA is now based in Tenino after previously being located in Yelm. It aims to honor the life of former Yelm High School student Nya Jaquez. During her sophomore year of high school, Jaquez lost her life to a rare form of colon cancer. She was just 16 years old. 

During her battle with cancer, Jaquez continued to attend Yelm Middle School and YHS, even on days she’d gone through treatment in Seattle during the early morning hours. As a freshman, Jaquez qualified for the second day of the 4A Narrows League golfing tournament in 2015, just 12 hours after radiation treatment at Seattle Cancer Care Alliance. 

Today, NWA teams aim to take to the court each game with the same heart, the same tenacity that Jaquez displayed, even on her toughest days. Nearly eight years after her death, Jaquez serves as an inspiration to the NWA team members. 

At Tenino Middle School, the Warriors defeated Kelso’s third grade girls team, 11-4, to win the second annual Tenino Middle School 3-on-3 third grade tournament championship after previously losing to the runners-up earlier in the tournament. 

“Keeping Nya’s name and legacy alive is our program’s heartbeat,” NWA head coach Richard Durham said. “I think our girls learn a handful of life lessons through NWA. A few that are top of mind include that they learn the will to prepare to succeed, not the will to succeed — everybody has that, but they learn the will to prepare to succeed.

“Another life lesson that comes to mind is they truly learned how to play as a team,” Durham continued. “I think that’s the lesson that umbrellas all the life lessons we teach the girls — the mental and physical toughness to overcome and prosper from adversity. The more they do that, the more self-confidence and self-esteem they have.”

The Feb. 25 tournament marked NWA’s first win with this specific team, which includes third graders Kora Hadaller, Brielle Perez, Ariel Ruege and Janna Perkins. 

Following the tournament victory, NWA team members described how it felt to win the annual 3-on-3 tournament and defeat Kelso in the championship after previously losing to the team in the same tournament. 

“It felt really good to win the tournament because we tried our best and worked our hardest,” Hadaller said. 

Her teammate Perez added, “It was definitely tiring, but it was awesome winning and only losing one game. It felt awesome to beat Kelso to win the trophy.” 

Ruege followed by stating, “It felt really nice to win the tournament. We worked very hard.”

Perkins said, “It was a very fun tournament. We worked really hard.” 

The girls added the advice to “work your hardest so you can be a warrior,” to “always try your best,” and that “even if it feels like your dreams aren’t reachable, never give up.”

Parents of athletes in the NWA program raved when asked how competing for the Warriors 3-on-3 team has benefited their daughters. 

Sammi Hadaller, Kora’s mom, said playing for NWA has made her daughter more of a mentally and physically tough athlete.

“She’s learning how to dig deep and persevere and overcome any obstacles,” Sammi said. “These are things that will benefit her through all aspects of life.”

Lola Jenson, Brielle’s mom, said her daughter’s participation in the program has taught her about hard work and sportsmanship. 

“We watched as her confidence blossomed on the court and are all proud of the determination and grit of all of our girls,” Jenson said. 

Autumn McGuire, Ariel’s mom, said the NWA program has taught her daughter how to challenge herself. 

“NWA has benefited my daughter by challenging her to do greater things than she can see from herself,” McGuire said. “It gives her the time on the court to develop her skills and, most importantly, develop an athlete mentality.”

Kimberly Perkins, Janna’s mom, said the team and community supporting the program has helped build her daughter’s confidence about herself and her abilities. 

“All the girls play and practice like they are family and give their all. I can’t be more proud of my daughter. Playing with these girls and the continuous growth they all show daily, they are the true meaning of the word team,” Perkins said. 

Following the conclusion of the tournament at Tenino Middle School, the girls will take a break until the beginning of April. The girls will compete again in 3-on-3 tournaments this summer, including a potential trip to Hoopfest in Spokane, the coach said. 

As well, 5-on-5 basketball will begin for the girls mid-fall or early winter, and Durham said the girls have a goal to compete in the fourth grade state tournament in March of 2025 in Spokane. 

Durham added the team is always looking for new athletes and currently seeks current third graders interested in playing competitive basketball. Anyone interested in a tryout can check out the program online on the group’s page “Nyastrong Warriors Academy” on Facebook. 

He said NWA has evolved in recent years, in thanks to three aspects that have enabled the program to grow, “... outstanding parents and families, a school district that provides us a place to practice and play, and great kids.”

“One person in particular that has been essential for us in Tenino is Crystal Hedden of the Tenino School District office,” he said.