Sarah Northway Maria didn’t notice the slight at first. A standout 6-1 guard at Brainerd in the early 1990s -- known then as Sarah Northway – she was simply happy to hear that Paige Bueckers, the outstanding guard at Hopkins, had announced her commitment to play for UConn, where Northway had finished up her collegiate basketball career.
Bueckers’ announcement was published in the Star Tribune on April 2. Two days later, a blog post about Bueckers’ place in Minnesota girls’ basketball history appeared, written by yours truly, saying Bueckers was set to be the first Minnesota to play for at UConn for legendary coach Geno Auriemma.
Um, not quite.
“At first, I thought ‘Hey, isn’t this great?’” recalled Northway Maria, now married with four children and living in the Washington D.C. area. “I started getting text messages and I read a little deeper. Then I was thinking ‘Hey, this isn’t right.’”
While in her senior year at Brainerd in 1993, Northway was recruited nationally, having also displayed her talents for the now-defunct Minnesota Devastation AAU basketball program. That team featured two Minneapolis high school players -- Tracy Henderson (Henry) and Brandi Decker (North) -- who also went on to play big-time college basketball at Georgia.
A high school All-America selection and Miss Minnesota Basketball finalist, Northway caught the eye of Auriemma, who made the trek to her family’s home on Gull Lake.
“He sat at our kitchen table,” she recalled.
She didn’t choose UConn, however. Sarah had numerous suitors and landed at Arizona.
Initially, the choice seemed perfect. Not only would she be playing at a well-respected Division I school, but her parents fell in love with the Tucson area.
“They decided to build a second home there,” she said. “The draw of having them able to see my games won me over.”
But the thrill evaporated quickly. Despite finding regular playing time by the end of the season, Sarah realized that she and the Wildcats were not a good fit.
“It wasn’t the team atmosphere I was looking for. So I called up all the schools who had recruited me out of high school. Geno was very gracious and they had a scholarship open, so he offered me a spot.”
Her timing was perfect, joining the team just in time to experience UConn’s undefeated run to the 1995 national championship. That Huskies roster was loaded with big names including Rebecca Lobo, Nykesha Sales, Jen Rizzotti and Kara Wolters.
Northway (second from left) with UConn teammates Carla Berube, Kara Wolters and Missy Rose
Because of NCAA transfer rules, Sarah couldn't play that season, but she did practice and travel with the team.
“The Final Four was in Minneapolis that year and it was one of my greatest sporting moments ever, even though all I could do was sit on the bench,” she said. “My parents were there, my high school teammates were there. Tracy and Brandi were there, too, because Georgia was in Final Four.”
Sarah finished her career at UConn in 1997 but never became a starter. “I played the same position as Nykesha Sales,'' she said. "I was there to back her up.”
After graduation, Sarah earned her law degree from Georgetown University and was a corporate finance attorney for five years before giving it up to focus on motherhood. Her husband, David, is also an attorney and they have four children ranging in age from 5 to 13.
They lived in Minnetonka for nearly three years before relocating the D.C. area last August.
Northway Maria is still active in basketball. She coached her oldest daughter, Grace, while in Minnetonka, served on boards for traveling and AAU teams and developed relationships with coaches in the area such as current Minnetonka high school coach Leah Dasovich.
“We’re a big basketball family,” she said.
Sarah Northway Maria and family
She even has a connection to Bueckers. “Her mom and I went to high school together. And her aunt was my sister’s best friend. She would baby-sit my brothers and sisters while my parents travelled around the country watching me play,” she said with a chuckle. “It’s a small world.”
The oversight in this publication didn’t really bother her, she said. In fact, it’s given her the opportunity to reflect with pride on a significant time in her life. She was a member of a team that went 35-0, won a national championship and was ultimately inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in Massachusetts. There were also three Big East Conference titles, two Final Fours, one Elite Eight and a Big East Scholar-Athlete award.
“Most people who know me know what I’ve done,” she said. “But it was nice to see the support from friends. And it got my name in the newspaper again.”