In her freshman season at Mississippi Valley State University, Taylor Delaire tasted success as the Devilettes basketball team won the Southwestern Athletic Conference (SWAC) regular season championship.
And she’ll soon have a big championship ring of diamonds with four emeralds on the corners as a memento of the team’s success.
Delaire, 18, an H. J. Cody High School graduate, spent the past school year in Itta Bena, Mississippi, after receiving a full ride dual scholarship to play volleyball and basketball at the HBCU (Historically Black Colleges and Universities) school.
This was only the second time in the university’s history that the women’s basketball team has captured the SWAC title. The other time was in the 1987-88 season.
The team also set a Mississippi Valley record as they won all their home games in the season, even the exhibition games. “They’d never done that before.” The Devilettes only lost four games all season.
Delaire said the basketball team has been in at least the top four of the 10 team SWAC league for some time now but hadn’t won a championship title.
There were three freshmen on the team, including Delaire, and all got about two minutes a game, she said. “There were six seniors (on the team) so I’m pretty sure I’ll get more time next year.”
They were the number 1 seed going into the end-of-season SWAC tournament in Garland, Texas. They beat the Lady Tigers of Texas Southern in the quarter final but lost to the Lady Panthers of Prairie View A & M, 58-55, in the semi-final. The Panthers went on to win the tournament.
The Devilettes then played in the Women’s National Invitation Tournament, the program’s first post season tournament appearance. It’s an annual tournament involving 64 of the United States’ top women’s Division 1 teams.
They fell 68-61 to Tulane University’s Green Wave in the first round, playing in New Orleans.
On the volleyball team Delaire started as a middle and felt she “played really well”. She described the team as struggling in a building year. They lost out in the double knock out. “I feel we’ll be up there next year.”
SWAC includes 10 schools in Alabama, Mississippi, Arkansas, Louisiana, and Texas. The minimum bus ride to away games was seven hours with the longest at 20 hours.
Delaire is the only Canadian at the university to be playing both sports and the only female who is playing both basketball and volleyball.
Mississippi Valley State University is “a really friendly culture change,” she said. “It’s like going from my home to a new home, it was very welcoming. I was really nervous to go but really had nothing to be scared of. I’m excited to go back.”
“I worked really hard. I’m excited to get the opportunity to see that small town kids can go farther than just Sylvan Lake,” said Delaire.
She got her start in the two sports at École Fox Run School where she credits Mr. (David) Massey and Mr. (Don) Rattray for their coaching. “They impacted my career. You need a good basic foundation to start. They were very helpful.”
Delaire was back at Fox Run last Wednesday, spending time at the school’s open house talking to young students, shooting balls and autographing pictures.
“I really like to do the open house at Fox Run,” she said.
At Cody, Delaire competed in soccer, track and field and cross country running as well as basketball and volleyball. She was named Cody’s female athlete of the year last June.
She also played volleyball with the U14 Sylvan Lake team before moving to the Red Deer Queens where she played up to the U18 level.
Delaire finished her freshman year with a 3.5 GPC (grade point average) in her four year program. She’s taking a business major but hasn’t specified what field yet.
She expressed thanks to family, friends and the community for all the support she’s received. Her mom, Crystal, visited her in Mississippi three times during the year and both her aunties, Tina and Sherry, also made the trip down south. Her whole family is making the return trip with her in August.
In the meantime, Delaire is working in Fort McMurray for the summer as an ore preparation administrative worker at the Shell Albion Sands site.
Mississippi State is a Division 1 NCAA (National Collegiate Athletic Association) school.
Her final comment was one of encouragement. “Always keep your mind on your goal.”