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Sisters For Life

Sisters For Life

by Megan Barnes

CORAL GABLES, Fla. – “Those are my sisters.”

“We’re always going to have each other’s back.”

“Sisters for life.”

In the summer of 2017, guards Endia Banks, Mykea Gray, Kelsey Marshall and Taylor Mason came into the University of Miami as strangers. Four years and countless memories later, they head into Senior Day as family.

“It’s so rare to have four kids come in together and stay together all four years,” head coach Katie Meier said. “It says a lot about their bond and their commitment to each other and the university that they have made this four-year journey together.”

This senior class has been through its ups and downs. From back-to-back NCAA Tournament appearances in 2018 and 2019, to a 2020-21 season unlike any other in due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the quartet has stuck together.

“I’ve spent the last four years of my life and probably the most important years of my life, so far, with these women,” Mason said. “We are really, truly sisters. I’m so proud of them and will love them forever.”

Mason, a Decatur, Ga., native, came to Miami because of the family feel of the women’s basketball program. The love and caring within the program were evident to the guard during her official visit in high school.

Over the last four years, Mason has found confidence on and the off the court and learned to take chances and be courageous. Now in her senior season, Mason has worked her way into the starting lineup for the Canes and has played her best basketball as a senior, doubling her scoring and rebounding averages from her junior season.

But most importantly, Mason has developed lifelong memories and friendships.

“Being at UM has been one of the best experiences of my lifetime, in both academics and basketball,” Mason said. “My sisters, my teammates, the love and the laughter, it’s an experience that I will remember forever.”

"Taylor is very bold and daring. She's going to speak the truth and, a lot of times, this group needed that." - Coach Meier

Like her fellow Georgia native, Banks was drawn to The U because of the family-oriented environment and how comfortable she felt from the start.

Unlike many freshmen, Banks was thrown into the fire right away, starting all 32 games her first season. Making 89 starts in her Miami career so far, the guard has grown tremendously both on and off the court.

Banks’ game has consistently progressed over the years and the senior is close to averaging double-figures (9.8 points per game) for the first time in her career. A facilitator at heart, the guard eclipsed the 300-career assist mark in 2020-21, becoming the 14th Cane in program history to do so.

From freshman to senior year, Banks has developed into a strong leader for Miami.

“I’ve learned to be courageous in everything I do and have gained leadership skills on and off the court,” Banks said. “Once you put on The U, you have big things to live up to.”

The Duluth, Ga., native has done just that, helping Miami to a pair of 20-win seasons in 2017-18 and 2018-19 and two postseason appearances. One of Banks’ best memories was Miami’s victory over fourth-ranked and defending national champion Notre Dame during her sophomore year.

But it is the little moments and the people that she will remember most.

“I’m going to remember my time here as the best four years of my life,” Banks said. “When you leave your parents’ house, you grow and change into the person that you want to become. Kelsey, Mykea and Taylor are my sisters for life and I will always have their backs, no matter what.”

"Endia is a leader. She wants people to do the right thing and will put them in their place and they will respond to her." - Coach Meier

A South Florida native, Marshall grew up familiar with the University of Miami and knew that she wanted to be a part of the Canes’ winning culture.

“I really loved the home environment and the coaching staff and playing style,” Marshall said. “I wanted to try and continue the winning culture.”

Four years after stepping foot on campus, Marshall’s name is all over the Miami record books, as she has become one of the most prolific 3-point shooters in program history. She currently ranks second in school history for career 3-pointers at 237, following only Cane great and current WNBA player Riquna Williams (272).

Reflecting on her time at Miami, Marshall recognizes how much she has grown as a person.

“I believe in myself a lot more and have become more of a vocal leader on the court,” the Davie, Fla., native said.

Senior Day has crept up on Marshall, who acknowledges the bittersweet part of the day.

“We didn’t think it was going to come this fast, but here it is,” Marshall said. “We’ve had a lot of good times together, filled with ups and downs, but at the end of the day, we’re family.”

"Kelsey is joyful and comes in every day talking and keeping things light." - Coach Meier

A Miami basketball player through and through, Gray has continued to make her mark on the Hurricane program.

As a junior, the guard became the 28th member of the 1,000-point club and currently sits in 19th in program history in scoring (1184). Gray has averaged double-figures each of the last three seasons and has racked up conference honors, including ACC All-Freshman Team (2018) and ACC All-Defensive Team (2020). She is the only player on Miami’s roster to have started all of the games that she has played (96).

Despite being forced to sit out her senior season due to an ACL injury, Gray has remained at the heart of the Miami program, turning into an extra coach on the sidelines.

“I think I’ve become a little more outspoken and have gained more confidence in myself and my actions,” Gray said. “I’ve become more of a leader and have learned to be more independent.”

Through it all, Gray remembers all the memories created on and off the court with her friends, teammates and coaches.

“It’s crazy how fast time went,” Gray said. “I feel as though we were just coming in as freshmen, staying in the dorms together. [Endia, Kelsey and Taylor] made my time here amazing and I wouldn’t want to share those moments with anybody else. It doesn’t get any better than Miami.”

"Mykea will stand back and watch things and then, in her moments of wisdom, will quietly send you a hard truth that is needed." - Coach Meier

“What each senior brings, the group collectively feeds off of,” Meier said. “That’s what has been amazing. The four of them have really needed each other on this journey and it has been wonderful to be a part of it.”

This special group of seniors will take the court as a unit on Senior Day, ready to face the Wake Forest Demon Deacons for the second time this season. Tipoff is set for 7 p.m. and the game will air on ACC Network Extra.