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Newmarket basketball star named top university athlete in Canada

'Being in such a really good community growing up was the start of this path for me, as well as having those positive role models that pushed me along the way,' says Sarah Gates, named by U Sports as top women’s athlete
Newmarket native Sarah Gates has earned the award for top university women's athlete of the year.

Basketball star Sarah Gates describes being at the top of university sports as a surreal experience. 

The Newmarket native finished her university career strong at McMaster University in Hamilton. When all was said and done, U Sports named her as the top university women’s athlete in Canada May 24. 

“I was honoured just to be in that conversation,” Gates said, crediting good habits for her success. “It’s one thing to be super motivated to do well and accomplish your goals, but you have to have that discipline to do so.” 

Gates earned athlete of the year after an all-star season for McMaster, in which she broke a record by scoring 47 points in her first game. Within Ontario University Athletics (OU), she would be first in total points and points per game this season, averaging 27.3.

She finishes her career as the leading scorer in McMaster women’s basketball history and third in OUA all-time, along with several other accolades, including the OUA first-team all-star and OUA female athlete of the year. 

As she wraps up her university career, she described her time there as the “best years ever.”

“I would do it all again,” she said. “It was a crazy journey … The things that stand out the most are just the memories of my teammates, my coaches and the bonds that I’ll have forever.” 

Gates started playing in Newmarket, and fell in love with the game. Her father was her first coach at Mazo de la Roche Public School, and she would continue to play at Newmarket High School. She credited her high school coach, Gad Perlmutter, for being a big part of her success.

“Being in such a really good community growing up was the start of this path for me, as well as having those positive role models that pushed me along the way,” she said. 

McMaster University teammate Mia Spadafora called Gates “fearless.”

“She knows her skill set and ability and never questions it,” Spadafora said in a news release. “She is an incredibly hard worker. You never see her taking little breaks at practice, and she is always the one pushing people to their limits.”

Gates also had a presence outside the court, serving as chair of the women’s athletic leadership council and as a member of the varsity leadership council at her school. She also spearheaded charitable initiatives such as the Think Pink Campaign, according to a U Sports news release.

“It has been such a privilege and pleasure to coach and know Sarah over her time here at McMaster,” her head coach at McMaster, Theresa Burns, said in a news release. “Her ability not only to score but to influence the game in so many ways has been phenomenal. Equally wonderful has been her growth as a person and as a leader who has learned to use her voice to promote change.” 

Gates, a student of the human behaviour program at McMaster, is not wrapping up her basketball days yet. Gates said she plans to pursue basketball professionally in Europe, though is not yet sure where that will be.

“I just feel like I’m not done yet,” she said. “I still have the urge to go practice, I still have the urge to get better. That’s what it’s all about.”

To aspiring athletes, Gates said it is important to support yourself.

“Be like your biggest supporter,” she said. “At the end of the day, you’re only constant in your life, so you have to be the one that’s getting yourself out of bed, you have to be the one that’s setting new goals ... If you’re your biggest supporter, it can go a long way and make a really big impact.”