From the moment Laura Graham stepped onto Western’s campus for a visit as a high school senior, she knew she had found her new home court. With a goal of one day playing semi-professional basketball in Europe, she needed to choose both the right school and team to help make that dream come true.
“Everything about Western blew me away,” she said. “The whole campus, the academic opportunities and the coach, Brian Cheng, were all amazing. I really connected with him, especially. When I visited the other schools trying to recruit me for basketball, I kept comparing them to Western – so I knew it was the place for me.”
The Sudbury, Ont., native, who just completed her first year in Western’s Kinesiology program in the Faculty of Health Sciences, played guard for the majority of her games last season. She described her season as both challenging and inspiring.
“Coming from high school to university is a big leap. I think being involved in athletics makes you more organized and make friends – a lot of my best friends are through athletics. You have to maintain an average to play, too, so it really keeps you on track to make sure you’re getting everything done.”
Her passion for the game began when she first picked up a basketball in Grade 5 and it’s grown from there, she said. “Playing is a rush. It’s hard to explain what it feels like. I’m at my happiest when I’m playing basketball.”
Despite having natural talent and being tall for her age growing up, Laura is one of the shorter people in Canadian Interuniversity Sport (CIS), standing at 5 feet 8 inches. “It’s a challenge sometimes. I definitely need to be more physical on the court and not allow myself to get pushed around by people who are bigger than me.”
Although the team didn’t bring home the Ontario University Athletics (OUA) trophy last season, they made it to quarter finals, losing out to Ryerson, who went on to take first place.
“I’m really excited we got as far as we did and I’m really looking forward to next season,” Graham said. “I hope we continue to get further every year and win more games. But most importantly, I hope we continue to improve and be the best we can be.”
Cheng said the team would not be able to compete at this level without the support of donors to Western’s Adopt a Mustang Program, which provides much-needed support for the coaches to pay for advanced training, recruitment, travel costs, equipment, uniforms and tournament fees. With more than 1,000 student-athletes involved in 46 varsity teams each year, there are not enough resources or funding for all teams to travel and compete at various levels.
“The Adopt a Mustang program is vital in helping to build the program into a national contender,” he said. “In addition to helping us recruit quality student- athletes like Laura to Western, we use the Adopt a Mustang Program to help and support our student-athletes with meal money when we are at away games. Even with this support, our student-athletes are often still out of pocket on our away games.”
Knowing donors are supporting her and her teammates in an effort to help them to achieve their dreams makes it even more meaningful, Graham said.
“I’m so appreciative. So many students have to pay for tuition and all other school costs themselves. If we didn’t have donors and sponsors, I don’t think most people would do any sports because they wouldn’t be able to afford to. Donor support has helped me and many other athletes to get so much closer to our goals.”