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Crina Mustafa

Canadian SWNT Training Camp Resumes: A Check-In with the Team

TORONTO, Ont. (Jan. 25, 2024) - The last time the Senior Women’s National Team (SWNT) played together, they went 3-0 last November in Medellín, Colombia, defeating Venezuela, Colombia, and Puerto Rico, in pre-Olympic qualifying to punch their ticket to the 2024 FIBA Olympic Qualifying tournament in Sopron, Hungary this February.  

As they come back together in the new year to ramp up training, we caught up with some of the SWNT members to find out what they’ve been up to since November. 

Natalie Achonwa: Lessons with Maverick, Returning to Play 

Natalie Achonwa’s had a busy 2023. She had her son, Maverick, last spring, causing her to miss the 2023 WNBA season. Just six months later, she was back in action with the Canadian SWNT, playing in all three games in November.  

“That was a huge personal and professional moment for me, six months after having a baby playing in my first tournament,” she said. Achonwa mentioned that it was her favourite moment over the last few months.  

In an interview with the Star on her return to the court, Achonwa said that she was a very “detail-oriented person in things,” but with the birth of her son, became detail-oriented “in time.” She very much maintains a similar mindset now, during the SWNT training camp in Toronto. With the busyness of her schedule, she tries to plan out as much as she can control. 

“I've been in the gym, and I've been on the court, and Mav’s has been in a stroller watching me,” Achonwa laughed.  

There have been many high points and lessons over the last couple of months for the longtime leader. As she continues to prepare this team for what’s to come, Achonwa reflects on what her son has taught her. 

“The special thing about having a kid is they really make you focus on the now. As planned as I want to be and as thorough as I want to be, the reality is you live in the moment and in the minute with kids. I really think he's allowed me to slow down.” 

Kia Nurse: Packed Schedules Filled with Raptors Games, Self-Care, & “Auntie Kiki” moments 

Olympian. WNBA star. Broadcaster. Aunt. Dog mom. In no particular order, Kia Nurse wears a lot of hats. Ever since she started on-air broadcasting, her off seasons have been at home, consisting of many drives between Hamilton and Toronto due to her broadcast role with the Toronto Raptors. 

How does she balance it all? Well, Nurse told us that she usually takes some time at the end of each month to plan out a detailed calendar for the month ahead. Here’s what her week typically looks like:  

Raptors gamedays: Lifting in the gym beforehand, on-court training, and then going to the game and broadcasting it. 

On-court: 5x a week 

Lifting: 3x a week 

Treatment: 2x a week 

Pilates: 2x a week 

On her Instagram page, you’ll notice that Kia Nurse has a story highlight specifically labelled books. “I do a lot of reading; I’m big on murder mysteries,” she said. “Trying to add a little bit of non-fiction this year, but every year I have a goal of just above 30 books. This year, the goal is [to read] 35 books.” 

However, her favourite moment of the last two months was meeting her newest nephew, Chase. She’s dubbed herself “Auntie Kiki,” delighted to have spent time with all three of her nephews, who are now between newborn and three years old.  

“My Auntie Kiki heart was very full. They’re all little babies!” 

Laeticia Amihere: A Time of Reflection, Non-Profit Work 

“This offseason has been the biggest time of reflection.”  

Laeticia Amihere, first-year WNBA pro with the Atlanta Dream, had a full offseason. After helping a standout three games in Colombia, Amihere headed to Ghana at the end of December to host a basketball tournament with her nonprofit, Back 2 the Motherland.  

“My non-profit's been one of my biggest passions outside of basketball, and to be able to see that coming to fruition, it was just amazing,” she said. Amihere was born in Mississauga, Ont., but is of Ghanaian descent, making the basketball tournament she hosted an extra special event for her.  

Amihere says she learned a lot from this experience, especially on the operations side of basketball. After the “whirlwind” of the last year and a half, this trip to Ghana was her favourite moment – describing it almost as a vacation, being able to spend time with family and host her own tournament.  

She also stated that this has been her most relaxed mindset since starting her professional career in May. 

Nirra Fields & Shay Colley: Mentors with the Junior Academy

Nirra Fields and Shay Colley have something cool in common: they’ve both been involved with Canada Basketball for over a decade. They both started out as young players who climbed up the ranks and eventually earned their spot with the Senior Women’s National Team.  

Over the holiday break, the pair started a new initiative to pay it back: mentoring with the Junior Academy

The Junior Academy is the entry point into Canada Basketball's High Performance Athlete Development Pathway. The camps consist of grade 7 and 8 students, who now have the opportunity to learn from senior national team members. 

Pictured: SWNT Member Nirra Fields at Junior Academy.

Nirra Fields is excited to keep working with the kids. “I'm just hoping to give them some inspiration and guidance and whatever they need help with for us to be there. To be like, this is how I got through a certain problem; that's how you can do it. Mentorship like that,” she said. 

Both Fields and Colley had warm words to say about the students after their first few camps together. “They're very funny, outgoing, and energetic,” Colley said. She hopes they can also represent Canada one day after passing down her knowledge from over the years. 

Fields also said that she and Colley saw a lot of themselves in the players they met. “Obviously, they're super tall, but we're kind of picking out like, oh, that's Natalie [Achonwa]. Like, she resembles Natalie. Or being like, Oh, that's me. To see the girls and see ourselves in them. Like when we were growing up.” 

Pictured: SWNT Member Shay Colley at Junior Academy.

Looking Ahead: February Olympic Qualifying 

With training camp bringing the SWNT together after the holiday break, they are now looking towards the Olympic Qualifying Tournament, which will take place from February 8-11 in Sopron, Hungary.  

Canada is in tournament group 4, alongside Spain (world rank no. 4), Japan (no. 9), and Hungary (no. 19). The top three teams following round-robin play will automatically qualify for the 2024 Olympics in Paris this summer.