Athletes are humans. Sure, they entertain by creating spectacular moments and thrill with their tenacious play, but they are humans. They have emotions, families and lives away from the field of play.
Nyah Moran, of NAU women’s basketball, and Millie O’Ketter, of NAU volleyball, are second-year athletes.
The two young women met in summer 2020 when both women’s basketball and volleyball were on campus for offseason workouts. It was also when COVID-19 was at its peak, which limited opportunities to interact with people outside of sports.
That changed when O’Ketter’s teammate Lyla Hollis reached out to Olivia Moran, Nyah’s twin sister, to hang out. After visiting Hollis’ dorm, O’Ketter and Nyah instantly became drawn to each other and began to hang out more.
For O’Ketter, meeting Nyah sparked a feeling that was somewhat new for her.
“It was weird for me because I was only interested in guys before meeting her, so when I met her I was like, ‘Oh — do I have a crush on her right now?’” O’Ketter recalled with a giggle. “But Nyah had always made me feel comfortable, so I never really got nervous about talking to a girl.”
Like any relationship, Nyah and O’Ketter were looking for qualities that would complement one another.
“We both have something that we’re always working towards, I just love that about her,” Nyah said.
“For me, when we started hanging out as friends, she just kept ticking boxes,” O’Ketter said. “She’s very nice, she’s caring and she’s obviously an athlete which has always been important to me, because I think it’s nice to have someone who’s determined in something other than school.”
Fans at women’s basketball games are likely to hear O’Ketter cheer whenever her girlfriend drains a three or assists on a score, just like they would hear Nyah when O’Ketter keeps the ball alive during a set. That support has always been important to their relationship, not just as girlfriends, but as athletes in general.
“It’s obviously nice to support each other and our relationship but with both of us being athletes we know how hard it can be during the season,” Nyah said.
O’Ketter echoed Nyah’s feelings on having a relationship with a fellow student-athlete.
“At the end of the day, like after a practice, I’m the one that she’s coming home to, and I see how hard she works. I think it’s important to emphasize every little moment because that’s what we work for and that’s why we’re here,” O’Ketter said.
For Nyah, being with O’Ketter has created an elevated sense of passion for basketball.
“Being able to see how much she loves her sport and wants to get better every time she’s at practice makes me want to push harder and helps me get through [the season],” Nyah said.
For O’Ketter, being with Nyah has changed her way of thinking about not being so stressed about her performance on the court.
“Nyah’s obviously a very hard worker but she also gives herself a lot of grace and a lot of empathy, so she gives herself breaks and sometimes realizes that it’s okay to have a bad day,” O’Ketter said. “I think that allows me to have a different perspective to see her be okay with that and I can implement that into my mindset too.”
With more coverage being provided to same-sex couples within sports like Megan Rapinoe and Sue Bird, the industry seems to be turning a corner when it comes to improving LGBTQ+ representation in locker rooms and sports media — an improvement these young women are loving to see.
“I think sports is a very hypermasculine place in and of itself, so to see queer couples, whether that be gay couples or lesbian couples, it’s just about the representation and having other people see that there are more than just straight couples out there [in sports],” O’Ketter said. “Especially for young people who are navigating their sexuality, or anyone for that fact — it just makes it really comfortable for them.”
For Nyah, being comfortable and proud in her own skin isn’t just about doing it for herself, but about inspiring people like her little brother, who is transgender.
“Just knowing how much my little brother goes through, I just want to be able to show him that you can be who you are and there are a lot of people who will support you and who you want to be,” Nyah said, holding back tears.
Millie O’Ketter and Nyah Moran are athletes. They dedicate themselves to improving their performances and making their sports better. Beyond that, they want to make sports as a whole a place where queer couples such as themselves receive the same recognition as heterosexual couples.