COMMENTARY: Finally, Five Black Starters at a Minnesota University Game

The Augsburg “diverse dozen”: (l-r, row 1) Camille Porter, Camryn Speese (l-r, row 2) Arianna Jones, Kaezha Wubben, Selena Lor, Sydney Fields (l-r, row 3) Tamira McLemore, Aiza Wilson, Pashia Scott, Destiny Cummings, Tehya Hampton, Jazmyn Solseth
The Augsburg “diverse dozen”: (l-r, row 1) Camille Porter, Camryn Speese (l-r, row 2) Arianna Jones, Kaezha Wubben, Selena Lor, Sydney Fields (l-r, row 3) Tamira McLemore, Aiza Wilson, Pashia Scott, Destiny Cummings, Tehya Hampton, Jazmyn Solseth

By Charles Hallman

A local reporter once asked me if there were ever five Black women’s college basketball starters locally, other than in visiting HBCUs or a forward-thinking team. My quick response was no. Now that’s changed.

The question was posed to me again last week, this time by an Augsburg University official who wanted a quick verification from a four-decades-plus women’s sports reporter. Five Black female players started the November 19 game against visiting University of Wisconsin-Superior.

Just as the Pittsburgh Pirates starting nine Blacks for the first time in a major league baseball game in 1971 only got a couple of lines in the press, the Auggies’ historic feat didn’t get any notice either.

“We’re super nervous,” the group of 12 players of color, 11 of them Black, admitted in our post-game session when told of their history-making in Minnesota sports lore. The Augsburg “diverse dozen” eventually took a collective deep breath and slowly exhaled, regaining their off-court composure.

Each of the five Black Auggie starters then briefly commented on what they bring to the starting lineup:

  • Tamara McLenore, a junior from Eagan majoring in business administration: “I bring a lot of energy. I’m pretty good at [pumping] our team up.”
  • Kaezha Wubben, a junior from Minneapolis majoring in management: “I bring defense.”
  • Camryn Speese, a junior from Bloomington, a communications major and a business administration minor: “I bring rebounding and offensive threat.”
  • Arianna Jones, a junior from Brooklyn Park majoring in business: “I bring energy [and] composure… I feel I set the tone on the team.”
  • Camille McCoy, a senior from Brooklyn Park, an exercise science major: “I bring a lot of athleticism to the team… [I’m] a big defensive presence in the middle.

Augsburg, under Head Coach Ted Riverso, now in his fourth year, has quietly created a local diversity pipeline to the MIAC’s only Minneapolis school. The majority of his 19 players are of color. “I came to Augsburg because it was the only school [with] this many women of color,” explained McCoy, who’s in her first year after transferring from North Dakota State College of Science.

“I came from Champlin Park High School, where the team was predominately White,” added first-year guard Sydney Fields of Brooklyn Park. “[It] is a positive change coming here.”

In addition to Fields and the five Black starters identified above, their fellow first-year players are Destiny Cummings (Andover, Minn.), Tehya Hampton (Brooklyn Park) and Winona’s Selena Lor; sophs Jazmyn Solseth (Inver Grove Heights) and Pashia Scott (Fridley); and junior Aiza Wilson (Minneapolis).

“I think it’s really great to have this many girls of color on the team,” Speese continued. “It makes other people of color want to come and be a part of our culture.

“In the MIAC there’s not many of us out there playing. A lot of them are sitting on the bench.” Nine of the Augsburg’s dozen of color saw action and scored in last Monday’s 16-point win.

Just as Macalester, historically mostly all-White, has become MIAC’s new standard bearer for diversity in volleyball, Augsburg has become the league’s diversity frontrunner in women’s hoops. History continues as the Auggies (4-1 overall) begin league play Nov. 28 hosting Bethel.

Just as I thought I’d never see a Black president in my lifetime, I can now check that off my list along with finally seeing five Black starters at a Minnesota college or university game, Big Ten, MIAC, whatever.

“I’ve been here since the beginning…making it a point of getting people of color at our school, which is the most diverse school in the MIAC,” Speese said.

This article originally appeared in the Minnesota Spokesman-Recorder.

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