The Girls On My Team Are My Sisters

Minnesota West sophomores playing Volleyball this fall (from left) Haley Unkl, Kiana Leighty, Shelby Pourier, Emma Noaber and Stephanie Pizano. (Tim Middagh/The Globe)

By Dan Ninham

Interethnic and interracial friendships offer opportunities for athletes to learn how others see their world. This helps people get along and accomplish team goals.

The Minnesota West Community and Technical College Lady Jay’s Volleyball Team, in the town of Worthington, Minnesota, 65 miles east of Sioux Falls, South Dakota, includes four Native American women playing from tribes in South Dakota and North Dakota and two Puerto Rican women, among their 17-player team roster.

This story is not about the wins and losses of a junior college volleyball team. It is a story about how a team maximizes athletic performance another way. By being a team.

“We expect our girls to build friendships by working as a team,” said Assistant Coach CJ Nelson. “We set team goals that require all teammates to compete and accomplish. One team and one family… we believe our team provides friends to lean on whether it be with homework, making meals together, or life issues just like they would be with families at home.”

Teylor Albers is an enrolled member of the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa Indians and Standing Rock Hunkpapha. She is from Bismarck, North Dakota and her father is Travis Albers of Takini, South Dakota and her mother is Allison Hertel of Bismarck.

“I always thought of being the same as everyone else, just because I am from a reservation doesn’t give me any less opportunity than any other racial groups,” said Teylor.
Tyra Medicine Horn is Yankton Sioux and is from Lake Andes, South Dakota. She is the daughter of Sheri Mengenhauser.

“All people can get along and be amazing friends just by interacting. My goal is to show the world you can be friends with anyone,” said Tyra.

Shelby Pourier is Oglala Lakota Sioux from the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota. She is the daughter of Charles and Jolene Pourier of Pine Ridge, South Dakota.
“Having non-native friends wanting to learn about my culture and wanting to hear my story makes my heart feel good because I was always taught to use my voice,” said Shelby.

Deija DeMarrias is Lakota from the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe. Her parents are Shawn DeMarrias of Pierre, South Dakota and Deidra McBride of White River, South Dakota.
“Befriending people from different backgrounds, racially and ethnically helps break down those barriers of bias,” said Deija.

Providing strengths to the team and encouraging hard work always prevails toward success. “It was during my junior and senior at Red Cloud Indian School where I realized I had the potential to play at the collegiate level. From there, my desire to compete and get better fueled my competitiveness,” said Teylor.

“Under-classmates back home message me asking how to further their education and what they have to do to make it to that next level. I never realized how many eyes I had on me. I was focused on bettering myself and yet I had people watching the whole time and I didn’t even notice,” added Teylor.

“I personally believe that the native in me gives me that fire and that athleticism to play sports,” said Tyra. “It gives me the determination to fight with everything I’ve got in me all the way down to the last point.”

Setting goals in the classroom leads student athletes to reach their potential now and later in their life journeys. “I have to have good grades to play on the court, therefore good grades always can lead to something better in life,” said Tyra.

“I will be the first granddaughter in my family to graduate from college. My mother taught me to always remember who I am and where I come from. To remember the community that built me to be strong. I am proud of who I am and where I come from as a Lakota Woman,” said Shelby.

“Playing college volleyball has convinced me to want to go back home, and become a teacher in the classroom and on the volleyball court,” said Deija.

“Everyday I come to practice with a positive mind because I’m not doing this for myself. I’m doing this for my people. We lose together and we win together. I treat everyone on my team like family. The girls on my team are my sisters. We may have our bad days or good days but no matter what we stand together,” said Shelby.

The team schedule can be found at: