She’s not the leading scorer, leading re-bounder, or leading her team in any statistical category…but Taya Keujer leads her team in arguably the most important and overlooked way. She is the ultimate “role player”.
At every level and every sport, athletes continually battle with the amount of time they spend watching the action instead of taking part in it. For the most part, we all play sports…to play… and we expect that to continue as our career develops. Almost all college/university players have to adjust; they go from being the all-star on their high school team to joining a team full of high school all-stars… coming to this realization can be a devastating and arduous experience.
Sitting on the bench is an incredibly unacknowledged role, and it is a truly rare athlete that is able to consistently and effectively handle the disappointment, heartache, and frustration that is unavoidably tied with limited playing time. However, if you don’t adjust and learn to cope, if you don’t overcome the very natural reaction of negativity in response to such a frustrating experience, you could miss a valuable opportunity to grow as both an athlete and a person and possibly… a National Championship. We can’t all be the all-stars, and the University of Saskatchewan Huskies women’s basketball team had no shortage of those. They were a team packed full of grit, heart and love for the game… none of which were displayed more than the bench leader herself.
I was lucky enough to spend three years of my career with Taya by my side and it’s hard to put into words the type of player and person she is. She’s a complete smart ass; in the best way possible, undeniably witty, tough as nails, loyal to a tee and the best type of friend and teammate you could ever ask for. She came to the University of Saskatchewan from the small town of Coaldale Alberta, where she was the all-star of her high school, played provincial team, got invited to a junior national team tryout and had multiple prospects for university. She’s a 6’1 lefty with a ton of upside that she ultimately decided to bring to the Huskie program. Unbeknownst to her, she would soon be battling for playing time with a 6’4 Prince Albert native that would become the best post in the country. Undersized in both height and weight, Taya battled every day but soon came to the realization that the position of starting post had been filled. She had a choice to make, should she spend five years on the bench or go somewhere that she can start, play important minutes and achieve individual success. As I mentioned before, Taya is tough as nails, the toughest player I have ever encountered both physically and mentally, so of course, she chose to stay. She knew she would never play substantial minutes, or be the go-to but that became less important to her as the games passed. She loved her teammates, her coaches and being a Huskie, she epitomized what it means to throw on the Huskie colors and represented our program like a true leader.
It’s perfectly fine to be unhappy with your backup status, and it wasn’t every day that she loved being a sub. However, it was how she dealt with the frustration that separated her. Instead of shutting down she worked harder, cheered louder, and was more supportive and proud of her teammates than anyone, she became a leader.
A leader is someone who handles adversity with grace and dignity. A leader is someone who is willing to sacrifice their needs for the team’s greater good. What separates the truly great athletes from everyone else is their ability to make everyone around them better. Taya made her teammates better. She understood that for her team to be successful everyone had to play their role to the best of their ability and she did this better than anyone I have encountered. She treated her teammates with respect and importance; but wasn’t afraid to hold them as accountable as she held herself, she valued their contribution to the team regardless of how small their role may be.
On a team full of all-stars Taya was able to find her role and fill it to the best of her ability. Every day she laced up her shoes, put her hair in a side pony and prepared for practice putting in just as much time if not more than those of her teammates that saw the floor significantly more than herself, but she never wavered in her effort. No one could ever question the work ethic and heart that Taya displayed on a daily basis; she’d sweat and bleed arguably more than anyone else on the floor, knowing it would rarely translate into game-time minutes. This didn’t matter, she knew she was making her team better every time she laced up, and that was enough for her. Taya’s daily challenges made her teammates tactically better, physically more conditioned and mentally tougher. She’s incredibly selfless, always putting the team’s needs before her own, a true test of being a solid reserve. She handled the feelings of unhappiness, frustration and the low self-confidence that frequently came from not getting a chance to prove her-self. For the good of the team and her teammates, she did the very best that she could, and it was more than any teammate could ever ask for.
Throughout her career Taya earned two Canada West Championships, and most notably in her fifth year, a National Championship. Making her a part of the most successful Huskie basketball team in the programs history. She may not get much attention or credit, but without Taya Keujer, this Huskie success does not happen. She is undoubtedly the unsung hero of her team.
In tough games, big wins and bad losses Taya was always the loudest person on the bench, celebrating everything and providing the energy needed for the girls on the floor. Every time out and quarter break she was the first on the floor, handing out high fives and giving words of encouragement. No matter how the game was going, Taya was the constant, the most dependable aspect of that team. She was always there, we all knew that when we hit a shot or took a hard foul, she would be the voice we heard and the fist pump we saw. If we needed some backing, she’d be leading the “DEFENSE” cheer, getting the bench going and finding energy when there was none. She was the rock, the glue and heart of the team. She took the hardest position in sport and turned it into one of the most important leadership roles in the game. She earned those titles and championships in the most difficult way a player can, she found success in the individual accomplishments of those around her and had more pride in this program than anyone. She sacrificed her individual ideals as a basketball player, changed her identity for the team and led them to more success than she could ever imagine. She is a National Champion who earned the title more than anyone I know. She’s a fighter; she is the ultimate “role player”.