Sarah (Northway) Maria ventured into territory that no Brainerd High School girls' basketball player had ever gone before.
She was the first BHS girls' basketball player to sign with a Division I school, receiving a full ride scholarship to play at the University of Arizona. She later transferred to the University of Connecticut where she was a member of the Huskies' national championship team in 1995 and played for their 1996 Final Four and 1997 Elite Eight teams.
At BHS, Maria competed in volleyball and tennis and track and field - briefly. Basketball is what landed her in the Warriors Hall of Fame, into which she will be inducted Monday night at the all-sports banquet with Wade Haapajoki, Dale Jensen, Marni (Lundbohm) George and Jim Hunt.
"I think it's a great honor to be included with all those people," Maria said from her home in Arlington, Va. "There's a great group of people in the hall of fame. It's a great honor to be included among them and to be in their company. I looked up to a lot of those people."
Maria was a basketball standout at BHS, one of the best to wear Warriors blue and white.
Her junior and senior years she helped Brainerd to 14-0 conference and 26-2 overall records as the Warriors won consecutive state Class 2A consolation championships.
"It was a wonderful time in my life," she said. "I had so much fun with my teammates. They kept us all together from ninth grade on, Heather (Anderson), Margit (Rinke) and me and Shelly Breen was a year older.
"It was fun to go from the bottom to the top. I remember when we were getting beat by Little Falls by like 50 or 60 points. To come up through the ranks with the same crew we finally started beating teams like Little Falls and Alexandria.
"We had a great group of girls, a great group of coaches. I really enjoyed the ride. It was so fun to go through the playoffs and play at Halenbeck Hall (in St. Cloud) and in Minneapolis for the state tournament.
"It didn't turn out how we would have liked but we won the consolation title both years, which was a pretty good achievement. It was the highlight of my high school years."
With 1,128 points, she is one of only five members of the Warrior girls' basketball program's 1,000-point club. She was a three-year starter, a three-time member of the all-conference team, all-state, a Miss Minnesota Basketball finalist and an outstate all-star.
"Sarah was a very versatile player for her time," former Warriors head coach Jim Gogolin said. "She was a big guard, who could play inside and outside. She gave us versatility, offensively, and that was a pretty nice thing to have.
"She could play guard if we needed her to. She played forward most of the time but she could play post too. She was a good defender. She was just a very good basketball player."
Maria's collegiate career didn't turn out like she had hoped, primarily being a reserve at the universities of Arizona Connecticut.
At Arizona she played sparingly and transferred in the middle of her sophomore year. She was recruited by Arizona coach Joan Bonvicini, who had inherited players from a predecessor.
"They had an older team that she didn't recruit, a lot of the team was kind of the legacy she was left with, and a new group of people that she recruited," Maria said. "There were kind of two groups of people doing things two different ways. It was like the team wasn't a team.
"It was kind of divided, kind of split, making it not a very fun place to play. I decided to see if it could work out better someplace else."
She transferred to U Conn, whose coach, Geno Auriemma, had recruited her out of high school. In order to become eligible she had to sit out the 1994-95 season when U Conn won the NCAA championship. She practiced with the team and was involved in all team activities, except suiting up for games.
"It was quite a ride, an amazing ride," Maria said. "It was an amazing time in my life. I will always have great memories of that."
For much of her career at U Conn, Maria played behind Nykesha Sales, the leading scorer in U Conn history. Teammates included center Rebecca Lobo, the 1995 national player of the year, currently a WNBA and ESPN broadcaster.
"I never really got into the main rotation or saw a lot of playing time," Maria said. "I played behind Nykesha. I played the same position as her and she was very successful. There was not a lot of time playing behind her.
"I think my role almost became guarding Nykesha in practice every day, I played against her every day. It was kind of my job to get her ready at practice."
Following graduation from U Conn, Maria went to law school at Georgetown University. Three years later she started working for a law firm in downtown Washington, D.C. In 2003 she married David Maria, an attorney at her previous firm. She is now a stay-at-home mother of a 2-year-old daughter and 14-month-old son.
Maria, whose brothers and uncle still live in the Brainerd area, has one regret about entering the hall of fame. Her parents, Ed and Jann Northway, were killed in a airplane accident in October 2004.
"I'm happy to be inducted but very sad they will not be there to see it," she said.
Thankfully, they were around to watch their daughter stand out on the basketball court.
MIKE BIALKA may be reached at email@example.com or at 855-5861.
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