“Competing at the highest level of competition as a Native American athlete means resilience and perseverance for all generations,” said DePerry, a women’s basketball student-athlete. “We have come a long way as Native Americans, and putting on my jersey every night and being able to play the sport I love as a Native American athlete makes me feel proud to be Indigenous.”

Meet the eight Native women who are changing the game and competing at the highest level of collegiate athletics.

Zena Aragon (Navajo) is a sophomore majoring in public health and a member of USD’s dance team. From Vinton, Iowa, Aragon is involved across campus in organizations such as the Latino-Hispanic Student Organization, Cultural Wellness Coalition, American Indian Science and Engineering Society, and Society for the Advancement of Chicanos/Hispanics and Native Americans in Science. Aragon said her family encouraged to follow her passion for dance and their support is what inspired her to pursue the sport in college.

“Being an Indigenous student-athlete is such an incredible honor, as is a Division I athlete,” said Aragon. “I’m proud of who I am, and I’m proud of being able to share that with others.”

Aragon plans to graduate with her public health degree and use it to give back to her community.

Taylor Byerley (Oglala Sioux Tribe) is a student-athlete for USD’s cross country and track and field teams and is pursuing a degree in exercise science. From Martin, South Dakota, Byerley was a three-sport athlete in high school and a four-time state qualifier in cross country and track and field. Byerley’s motivation to continue her athletic career at USD came from her parents, and she said she is proud to be a Native athlete at the DI level.

“It gives me a stronger sense of pride knowing that I am representing Indigenous people at this level of athletics,” said Byerley.

In the future, Byerley hopes to obtain a doctoral degree in physical therapy.

Tori DePerry (Ojibwe) is a forward for the women’s basketball team and is currently pursuing a master’s degree in interdisciplinary studies. From the Red Cliff Band of Chippewas in Shawano, Wisconsin, DePerry began her collegiate basketball career at Saginaw Valley State University in Michigan before transferring to USD in 2023. DePerry said her parents encouraged her to pursue sports at an early age, but her biggest motivation is showing “the younger generation that it is possible to overcome hardships and be a Division I athlete.”

“The younger generation, specifically Native Americans, inspire me the most,” she said. “I was once in their shoes, and I love to make my reservation proud and show them to never give up on their dreams.”

In the future, DePerry hopes to give back to collegiate athletics as a mental health performance coach for student-athletes.

Melaya Dominguez (Cheyenne River) is a freshman majoring in criminal justice and a flyer for the USD cheer team. From Chamberlain, Dominguez chose to continue her passion for cheering at USD after attending a cheer clinic and said, “I loved the atmosphere that they had and how they made you feel a part of the family right away.” A highlight of her collegiate cheer career was cheering at her very first college home game. As a Native athlete, Dominguez is proud to be a role model for those who want to follow in her footsteps.

“I have always looked up to the older cheerleaders since I was a little girl, and I wanted the opportunity to become a role model to the kids who look up to us now,” said Dominguez. “I want to give kids hope that their dreams are possible.”

Looking forward, Dominguez’s goals are to excel academically and reach new heights on the cheer team.

Jade Ecoffey (Oglala Lakota) is a USD cross country and track and field athlete and a freshman psychology major. Originally from the Pine Ridge Reservation, Ecoffey graduated from Red Cloud High School, where she was a four-time state champion. Ecoffey’s love for running inspired her to compete at the collegiate level, and for her, being a DI athlete means persevering against all odds.

“It means that against all odds of growing up Native and on the rez, I made it,” Ecoffey. “I get to prove people wrong and prove to myself that I will succeed despite the adversity.”

Ecoffey hopes to make a name for herself as a runner at USD and then attend graduate school after earning her bachelor’s degree in psychology.

Morgan Sullivan (Oglala Lakota Sioux Tribe) is a junior pursuing a degree in biology with a minor in criminal justice and a midfielder on the USD soccer team. Raised in Rapid City, Sullivan has played sports her whole life and said that watching her sister – Maddison Sullivan ‘23, who also played soccer for USD – excel at the DI level, inspired her to reach for her own dreams and make it happen for herself.

“Being a Native athlete competing at the Division I level means a lot to me, as I was able to make it out of an oppressive system,” said Sullivan. “I’m able to encourage the Indigenous youth to chase their dreams and show them that they can make their goals possible, too.”

Upon completing her undergraduate degree, Sullivan plans to go to dental school.

Caelyn Valandra-Prue (Rosebud Sioux Tribe) is a junior majoring in exercise science and a sprinter for the women’s track and field team. Valandra-Prue, who’s from the Rosebud Reservation in Mission, qualified for the NCAA West Preliminary in the 4x100 meter relay as a freshman. As a track student-athlete performing at the highest level of collegiate competition, Valandra-Prue said her biggest motivation is, “to show the youth that with hard work, you can accomplish anything.”

“Since I was in middle school, I’ve always wanted to run at USD,” said Valandra-Prue. “It’s a very special feeling because it’s hard to come from the reservation and be able to do what I’m doing.”

After graduation, Valandra-Prue hopes to stay in the athletic atmosphere and pursue a career as an athletic trainer.

Matayah Yellowmule (Oglala Sioux Tribe) is a sophomore majoring in social work and criminal justice and a member of the USD track and field team. As a track and field student-athlete, Yellowmule competes in several events, including long jump, triple jump and high jump. She placed second in the high jump at the Summit League Championships during her freshman season. Coming from Rapid City, Yellowmule said she took the opportunity to pursue a collegiate athletic career to use her gift to create a future for not only herself, but also her family.

“Competing at the Division I level means I am walking through this journey with not only myself, but my mom, aunts, uncles, grandparents, sibling, nephews and nieces,” said Yellowmule. “They all walk with me through this – even the ones who are no longer here.”

Yellowmule plans to finish her undergraduate degree at USD and then pursue a master’s degree in social work or attend law school.

Aragon, Byerley, DePerry, Dominguez, Ecoffey, Sullivan, Valandra-Prue and Yellowmule will be recognized at the third annual Native American Heritage Day basketball game on Saturday, Jan. 27.

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