Sutterlict Brings Pride Of Yakama Nation To Saint Martin’s
Janealle Sutterlict averaged 8.8 points, 2.5 rebounds and 2.4 assists per game in 2019-20 and ranked 10th in the conference with a .377 three-point percentage.
Janealle Sutterlict averaged 8.8 points, 2.5 rebounds and 2.4 assists per game in 2019-20 and ranked 10th in the conference with a .377 three-point percentage.

Monday, December 14, 2020
by Kaho Akau, GNAC Media Relations Assistant

LACEY, Wash. – There aren’t many athletes from Toppenish, Washington, who go on to compete at the collegiate level. Janealle Sutterlict is among the lucky few.

Sutterlict finished her basketball career at Wapato High School among the region’s all-time greats. A four-year starter for the Wolves, she scored more than 1,800 career points. Sutterlict garnered first-team honors from the Central Washington Athletic Conference (CWAC) three times and was named the CWAC Player of the Year and a first-team all-state selection as a senior.

Even with all of those accolades, it was difficult for her to get recruited by teams at the NCAA level due to a lack of exposure of athletes in her hometown.

“There were a couple of people I know who went on to play at local community colleges but that was about it,” Sutterlict said. “I always believed that my stats would do all the talking and it would catch the attention of college coaches. I just continued to focus on working hard, being the best teammate I could be and maintain a positive attitude even though I started to wonder when coaches were going to reach out.”

Sutterlict grew up on the Yakama Nation Reservation and started playing basketball when she was just 3 years old. Her father, Gene, was a standout high school basketball player. Her mother, Krista, coached her throughout her entire childhood and spent countless hours pushing her in the gym, on the track and in the pool to work on all aspects of her development as an athlete. But the hardwood was where Janealle knew she could take her talents to the next level.

Growing up on a reservation, Sutterlict soaked in her family’s Native American values. Some of those values include practicing humility and stressing collectivism over individualism. So it was a little uncomfortable when she and her mom had to be more aggressive during the recruiting process.

“My mum was a huge help when it came to getting me recruited,” she said. “She took time out of her day to contact college coaches with hopes that one would take a chance on someone who was never on their radar. She had to go against everything of who she is as a Native American woman.”

Krista knew that Janealle could compete with college basketball’s best players, so she went out of her way to make the necessary sacrifices. She helped Janealle put together a highlight tape that they sent to coaches of all levels. With the help of Joe Blodgett, Janealle’s head coach at Wapato, they finally found a match in Saint Martin’s University and caught the eye of head women’s basketball coach Christy Martin.

“I received Janealle’s film from Joe on a Thursday night,” Martin said. “I was familiar with him and trusted his word so I took a break and immediately watched her film. I was so impressed that we had her on a visit and cleared her to practice the very next day. It took us less than 24 hours to offer her. I knew right away that she was the perfect fit for us and for Saint Martin’s.”

Sutterlict started in all 27 of the Saints’ games as a freshman in 2019-20, averaging 8.8 points, 2.5 rebounds and 2.4 assists per game. In high school, her mom taught her that age doesn’t determine talent. So she was ready to rise to the challenge and step up in a big way as an underclassman.

“I love this game and everything about it so being on the court with my team, regardless of my age in comparison to everyone else, is always the greatest feeling,” Sutterlict said. “I am humbled that my coaching staff trusted me to fill the role that I did. I know how to handle pressure and I love the feeling of competing when someone underestimates or overlooks me.”

Martin’s decision to bring Sutterlict to Saint Martin’s was a no-brainer. But seeing her play in person and take on a leadership role as a freshman exceeded all expectations.

“It’s been one of the best decisions that we’ve made for our program,” Martin said. “I feel fortunate to coach Janealle and to be involved in her development as a person and leader. She’s been amazing for our team culture. She’s talented and will undoubtedly be an impact on our program for years to come.”

Sports play a big role in Native American culture, and the Sutterlict family has passed down a tradition of playing not for exposure and publicity but for the love of the game.

Instead of paying thousands of dollars for Janealle to join a club basketball team when she was in high school, Krista started a travel team predominantly made up of other Native American girls for her daughter to play alongside. With the help of some other families and their tribe, all expenses were covered. The team drove across the country together, with Krista behind the wheel, to play in tournament after tournament.

“I’m grateful for the family support system I have. They pack any event I have ever been a part of and seeing them in the crowd makes me extremely happy,” Janealle said. “Basketball is big throughout Native American country. It is used as an outlet and a catalyst to push toward a brighter future.”

When Sutterlict visited Saint Martin’s as a prospect, the coaching staff and players welcomed her with open arms. She knew that although she would be away from home for the first time in her life, she would be in good hands.

Since arriving in Lacey last fall, her first impression of Saint Martin’s has been constantly reaffirmed. It warms her heart when her friends and teammates are eager to learn more about her culture.

“I try to represent my culture wherever I go,” she said. “I am fortunate enough to be surrounded by such amazing people who have an interest in my culture. They sometimes ask about my culture and it makes me happy to enlighten them.”

During the 2019-20 season, the Saint Martin’s women’s basketball team, with the help of the Sutterlict family, hosted its first-ever Native American Culture Night. Local vendors came to sell food and other Native American goods such as tacos and beaded accessories. Members of the Sutterlict family even dressed up in their traditional regalia and danced to pow wow music during halftime.

A portion of the proceeds was donated to the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women’s (MMIW) cause to bring awareness to the harsh reality that Native American women and girls are raped or murdered at alarming rates and those crimes are often left unsolved or uninvestigated. The MMIW serves to shed light on this issue and bring awareness to people outside of the reservations, especially those who are non-Native.

“That night meant a lot to my family,” Sutterlict said. “All of our Yakama ways of life are still practiced today through our songs, dances, stories and traditions. My family are fishermen, hunters and gatherers. We were honored to be a part of it and appreciated the opportunity to share a little about our ways of life with our Saint Martin’s family.

“I am blessed to be deeply connected to my culture and still be able to balance my Yakama lifestyle with the demands of the contemporary systems. My family, my community and my tribe are always supporting me.”

Just a few generations ago, Sutterlict’s elders weren’t allowed to be where she is today. Whenever she sees her name on the scoreboard or hears her name over the speakers in Marcus Pavilion, it represents where she comes from and the people she plays for.

At this stage in her life, she has a strong desire to serve the underrepresented. As an enrolled member of the Confederated Tribes and Bands of the Yakama Nation, she recognizes that there are far too few voices like her own that are being heard. Even in the world of sports, athletes like herself aren’t recognized although they have the same talent and drive as the other children. After college, she wants to serve in policy, social justice or education to help make the decisions that represent those underserved communities.

“I like to believe that I am breaking stereotypes and encouraging others who look like me to be proud of who they are and inspire them to break barriers as well,” she said. “There were many sacrifices that needed to be made for me to be where I am today. I would like to believe that I am helping those who come after me.”