NyaStrong Warriors Academy basketball team gearing up for Hoopfest in Spokane

Fourth grade team to compete in largest 3-on-3 tournament in world


The NyaStrong Warriors Academy does not back away from competition, and the fourth grade girls will demonstrate that when they compete in the Spokane Hoopfest basketball tournament on June 29 and June 30.

The NayaStrong Warrior Academy basketball program honors Nya Jaquez, a Yelm High School student who lost her battle with cancer at the age of 16 in October 2016. During her high school athletic career, Jaquez qualified for the state golf tournament despite actively receiving chemotherapy throughout the season and leading up to the competition.

Head coach Richard Durham said in a previous interview that he wants NWA program members to learn, appreciate and look back to Jaquez’s story of courage, strength and perseverance during times of adversity.

With Hoopfest on the horizon, Durham said four girls will travel to Spokane for the tournament, including team captain Kora Hadaller, Janna Perkins and twins Emily and Emma Ruiz. Last year, NWA’s bracket featured 32 teams in its division, and Durham expects the same, deep bracket in 2024.

“We teach our girls, it is the will to prepare to succeed that matters, not the will to succeed. Everybody has that. It's the will to prepare,” Durham said. “The bottom line is when you coach youth, you coach the parents as well. I'm so grateful to the Hadaller, Perkins and Ruiz families for their unselfish and selfless commitment to our program in preparation for Hoopfest. All of our girls played at least two sports this spring, as well as had multiple siblings that played ball this spring, so our parents and families were balancing multiple spring sports practices and games as well as a demanding basketball practice schedule.”

Durham added that NWA’s No. 1 job as a youth program is ensuring the safety of the athletes and, after that, creating fun and memorable experiences for its athletes. Once those components are addressed, Durham said everything else takes care of itself.

The team captain Hadaller, who wears No. 21, said she’s most looking forward to spending time with her loved ones and playing the sport she loves with her “amazing, nice and great” teammates in Spokane.

“[Basketball] makes me feel confident in the things I do in life, and it's a team sport and everybody works together. For example, if I'm on the court and I fall down, my teammates will help me up,” Hadaller said. “What it means to be a NyaStrong Warrior is it's hard work, but worth it, because I have a great time playing basketball with my awesome team and coach.”

Her teammate Perkins, No. 12, said she’s also excited to spend time with her friends and family while in Spokane competing in the annual Hoopfest tournament.

“What basketball means to me is I can play with my friends. Also, I know I can help my team and my team can help me. That is what basketball means to me,” Perkins said. “What it means to be a NyaStrong Warrior is that the team can help me and I can help the team, and I know me and my teammates are strong.”

The twins, Emma, No. 31, and Emily, No. 19, agreed and said they’re looking forward to spending time with their teammates and family members during their trip to Spokane. Emily added that she’s looking forward to shooting a lot of baskets.

“It is bigger than basketball to me. It's hard work and fun. It's fun when my teammates and I are playing together,” Emily said. “What it means to be a NyaStrong Warrior, it's a lot of hard work, and a lot of people can't do it, so it means a lot to me.”

Her sister, Emma, added, “what the sport of basketball means to me is I can be myself and play with my teammates. If I make a mistake, my teammates are with me and support me and help me fix it. [Being a NyaStrong Warrior] means I can do my best and play with my teammates and sister.”

Coming later this summer, NWA will host free athletic agility camps in Tenino and surrounding areas for girls and boys in second through fifth grade. Those interested should contact Durham through the NyaStrong Warrior’s Academy Facebook page.f