Team New York

Team New York taking on Colorado at the North American Indigenous Games. (Eric Anderson)

They may not have won a medal but for the under-19 girls basketball team from New York, simply playing in the North American Indigenous Games is worthy of celebration.

The team from Seneca Nation arrived in Regina with just four players. Several members failed drug tests in New York and were not allowed to travel. Another girl did not have the proper documents to cross the border. 

It was an emotional roller-coaster for Darian Spruce and her team-mates.

"I was quite upset because we really wanted to come here and play basketball. When they told us that we didn't have enough girls to play, we were like why did we even come here?"

Luckily, the Seneca Nation has an under-16 team playing in the Games. One player was plucked from that roster so the team would have five players to hit the court. 

It meant a lot of running for players like Kristin Sedar.

"It was hard. I didn't get a sub and it was just tiring. We're not used to playing 20 minute halves. We're only used to seven. We were just winging it."

ROOKIE HEAD COACH OVERWHELMED

Not only were there issues with New York's roster, but the team was under the guidance of a rookie head coach.

Emily Cooper, who grew up on the Seneca Nation residence and was a basketball star, was asked two weeks before the Games if she would coach the squad. 

"I had not met the girls and we only had two weeks before travelling here to Saskatchewan. I was nervous because this was going to be my coaching debut. Would I know enough about the game? But it's been exciting."

Cooper is cramming as much knowledge into her players' heads as possible during the Games. An hour before game-time, Cooper takes her girls to the outdoor courts behind the University of Regina Kinesiology Building. She goes through different drills, but even running through the basics is a challenge with only five players.

"You don't have any defence to play against. You can't practice live game situations. And then in the game, you can't have any subs. So I'm coaching a team with some pretty strong girls who are playing a full forty minute game with no subs."

Seneca Player

One of the few players on Team New York warming up before tip-off (Eric Anderson)

DRUGS AND ALCOHOL ON THE RESIDENCE

On the Seneca Nation residence in upstate New York, where 3,500 people live, sports like basketball and lacrosse offer kids a way to avoid some of the social issues on the reserve.

"There are a lot of drugs and alcohol involved. New and different drugs that people are getting into," says Sedar

"We have so much talent on the rez but there's nothing to do with it because of all the drugs and alcohol involved."

Sedar, who hopes to play lacrosse at university, thinks a new community centre built on the reserve will give young kids something to focus their energy on.

As for the team, they finished the Games with a record of 1-3. They will not compete for a medal but Sedar knows everyone back is proud of her team's determination.

"They might not be here but we know they're cheering us on. They are checking our facebook and our tweets. They're still cheering us on no matter if we win a medal or not."