Women’s basketball senior Sarah Kaminski succeeds on and off the court


Women’s basketball senior Sarah Kaminski has been in a gym and playing sports since before she can remember. The youngest of four siblings, Kaminski grew up playing baseball, softball, volleyball and basketball. 

The Plymouth, Minn. native chose basketball as the only sport she would play because it was the first sport she played and because of the players and coaches she had grown up with. 

Kaminski found that the skill sets from one sport aided her in her development in basketball, and playing multiple sports is something that she now misses. 

She had the same coach for travel and AAU basketball from fourth grade through her senior year of high school. 

“He was really formative in how I view basketball and view my teammates and view the kind of the community that comes with playing basketball. … He’s such a great person, and knew me so well as a person and knew what my potential was,” Kaminski said. 

Kaminski’s main focus when deciding what college to attend was academics. 

“I came [to Mason] first for academics and the job opportunities, because I knew I wanted to work in the federal government. And it works with basketball, so it was the best of both worlds and I knew I could succeed here and the location was a huge draw,” she said.

She is majoring in criminology, with minors in French and Spanish. Kaminski is interested in various international issues including human trafficking. 

The summer before her junior year, Kaminski had the opportunity to intern in the State Department’s Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement. 

Mason’s coaching staff let her do fewer workouts and worked with her to create a routine that was able to fit into her busy schedule. Specifically, she thanked her strength coach Faith for working out with her before the sun came up. 

“It was a very jam-packed summer, but I’m really glad I did it because it’s gonna help me so much with my career,” Kaminski said. 

After graduation, she plans to work for the federal government and possibly pursue a master’s degree. Kaminski plans to stay in the area and hopes to attend some games as a fan next season. 

“You know, I think her and particularly Jacy [Bolton] both really came in and set a standard. I think when we first came here, I think we were like 12th or 13th in the conference in academics and we now have four provost scholars and Sarah was our first,” head coach Nyla Milleson said.

She continued, “So I think she just set the standard in terms of what our expectations and, you know, we say every day we don’t need everybody to be Sarah’s straight A’s. But everybody’s capable of being better. And, you know, she certainly set that standard.

The most notable takeaways for Kaminski from her time at Mason were not only hard work, perseverance and time management, but more importantly friendships and relationships. 

Some of her favorite memories at Mason have come from team potlucks and birthday celebrations. 

“It’s nice to get away from basketball and the court to focus on our friendships and relationships. I think that’s it’s always really nice, it’s always fun when everyone cooks too. Get to practice those life skills a little bit,” Kaminski said with a laugh.

She revealed that Camarie Gatling’s secret family recipe for buffalo chicken dip is her personal favorite, and Kaminski humbly bragged that her baking skills were the best on the team. 

On the court, Kaminski noted Nicole Cardaño-Hillary’s buzzer-beater against Dayton on Feb. 24, 2019, as a possible contender for her favorite Mason memory.

However, despite being the one to inbound the ball on that memorable play, Kaminski was humble and refused to take any credit.

“Oh I just passed her the ball, I wasn’t that important. I literally couldn’t screw that up, she was so wide open,” she said. 

After starting almost every game in her first two years, Kaminski has started fewer games over the last two seasons. She took this change in stride, doing whatever needed to be done. 

“I just want the team to win and whatever Coach [Nyla Milleson] thinks is right,” she said. “I show up to practice and I try to do it to the best of my ability.” 

“We started her out at a point guard. We run her 1, 2, 3, 4. We guard her 1 through 5. And I think not only her ability to have the versatility but her willingness, I think is probably even more important,” Milleson said.

She added, ”She came to me once this year and during the stretch and she said, ‘Coach, is it okay if I run a little 4 for Jacy, because I think Jacy’s body’s wearing down a little bit because of the amount of minutes.’ So you know just selfless in that way, trying to do what’s best for the team.” 

Against Detroit Mercy on Nov. 16, 2019, Kaminski, at 5 foot 9 inches, successfully guarded a much larger post player, something Milleson commended her for after the game saying, “Sarah at 5 foot11 — with her high heels on —was guarding 6 foot 5.” 

Milleson hopes that her team has learned a couple of things from Kaminski: “Just to battle, and do what’s needed of you. Just do what you have to do on a daily basis.”

Kaminski currently sits in third place on the all-time in made three-pointers, a feat she acknowledged in passing, focusing instead on what legacy she will leave off the court. 

“I hope that I leave more of a legacy off the floor, especially in academics and just in people’s personal lives. I hope that our program continues to succeed academically,” she said. 

“Because that’s where a lot of people are it’s important to develop life skills for after college for when basketball’s done. And I think it’s really important that no matter how on the court goes, it’s important to have some off the court that makes you a better person that gives you hope for a better future,” Kaminski continued. 

She hopes that she’s taught her teammates that sticking up for yourself is important. 

“Not being afraid to say what you think. Not afraid to hurt people’s feelings and do what’s right but like, more importantly, just say what you think. Because your voice does matter,” Kaminski said. 

However, Kaminski has also had the opportunity to learn important lessons, not just teach them. 

“I’ve learned a lot about, like, toughness, about perseverance, about just how not to quit, because college basketball really, really does wear you down. Sometimes it’s hard to come back the next year [and] come back the next game, [but] …  the most important thing is knowing how to fail,” she said. 

“I mean basketball is a game of failure, you shoot 40 percent, and that’s good, but you’re still missing six out of 10 times,” she added. “Just knowing how to fail and how to recover. The biggest thing people have taught me is how to have a positive attitude because I’m not exactly the most positive person. But being around Allie [McCool] and Livy [Livija Kaktaite] will change that about you.”

Milleson added to this, saying, “Sarah’s way mature about beyond her years, and, you know, she came in very committed and dedicated, both on and off the floor, and so I think as a person, I think we’ve just really been able to give her a lot of opportunities and she’s definitely taken advantage of them. And definitely used every opportunity to grow. She’s got big, big goals ahead of her. 

She continued, “I think as a player, we actually started her as a point guard as a freshman and then moved her off of the ball. She’s battled some injuries and some, you know, her body wearing out on her, but she continues to try to do what she can do to help this team.”

Milleson has a few things she will miss about not having Kaminski around next season: “Her little smart-aleck ways [and] her grandma warm-ups[.] … Sarah [is] terribly intelligent.”

Milleson continued, “She didn’t try to change to be somebody who she wasn’t. And I think that has allowed some other people to be who they are, and our team just accepting the way people are and you have to make changes to fit into a group. And, Sarah’s been able to do that, but as a person off of this floor, Sarah’s remained who Sarah is and I think that’s been really important to our program.”