Achieving her dreams: Bygate, a senior for Dickinson State, makes New Zealand's National basketball team
There's one word which best describes Dickinson State senior Jess Bygate's last couple weeks.
She went from not being on the initial roster for the New Zealand national basketball team trials to being a late addition to the roster after competing in a three-day trial.
However, the last two weeks for the 6-foot-1 post was completely worth hearing the phrase, "You made the team."
"It was pretty exciting, because I didn't really know what my chances were of making the team," Bygate said during a phone interview late Wednesday night, which was Thursday in New Zealand. "It's really exciting to get this opportunity."
The first people Bygate contacted after she found out she had made the New Zealand national team were her parents.
"I called my parents and I think my mom called the rest of the world," Bygate said with a laugh. "They are excited."
Yet, Bygate admitted during the three-day trial she wasn't feeling extremely confident.
"I didn't feel like I was standing out or anything," Bygate said. "I didn't really have any idea when I went into the meeting when I found out I had made the team."
Though Bygate achieved her dream of making her nation's national team, the journey is far from over. She knows every day is a chance to grow in every facet of her game.
"There is still room for improvement," Bygate said. "I still want to be one of the starting players. I can just keep building from here. I have my foot in the door now."
The next step for the Bygate and the rest of the New Zealand national basketball team is playing the Australian national team in a two-game series beginning Aug. 14 in Auckland, New Zealand. The Australians are ranked No. 2 in the world, while New Zealand is ranked No. 22.
Since Bygate has plane tickets to return to the U.S. on Aug. 20, she is going to need a little help from parents to bring her luggage, so she doesn't have to return to her hometown of Nelson, New Zealand. The last game in the series is on Aug. 19 in Cranbourne, Australia.
"My parents are going to have to come up to Auckland and watch me, because I didn't bring my bag to go to America," Bygate said. "When we get done with the Cranbourne game on the (Aug.) 19th, I leave for my flight on the 20th."
DSU head coach Caleb Harrison, who is originally from New Zealand, said it's an honor to have a player represent the country's national team.
"Being on the national team in New Zealand means everything," Harrison said. "We grow up as youngsters and our dream is to represent the country in our chosen sport. It is the greatest honor in sports in New Zealand to represent the national team."
Harrison, who is entering his second season as the Blue Hawks women's head basketball coach, had a feeling Bygate could make the national team.
"Jess has always been right on the edge of making the national team," he said. "She has good strength and she can defend bigger players. She can be effective offensively against bigger players. I've always thought she had the skill set to be effective for the New Zealand national team. It's great for her to see all that hard work finally pay off."
He hopes the experience Bygate gains not only benefits her, but the entire team.
"One of the biggest things that she will be able to bring back to the team is the experience of playing the Australian national team," Harrison said. "The Australian team will have Lauren Jackson playing for them and Lauren has had a great WNBA career. She's arguably one of the best players in the world. For Jess to get the chance to play against people like that is going to give her a great go of confidence and knowledge that she can contribute to our team. It's something that we can be really proud of as a program and that people in our program are doing big things."
One player Bygate has practiced against for many hours in DSU's Scott Gymnasium is sophomore Jalyn Klauzer. The 6-foot post from Baker, Mont., said Bygate is a tough, physical player.
In fact, she said practicing against Bygate -- at times -- was tougher than playing other competitors in the Frontier Conference.
"It has been a battle during practice, because she is physical and she's looking to work hard all the time," Klauzer said. "Being able to work with Jess has helped me improve, because she is a high-level player and one of the highest-level players in the Frontier Conference. I struggled more with Jess in practice than I did with a lot of the other girls in the Frontier. That was huge help during the season, especially later on when I got to have more playing time. I contribute a lot of that to Jess."
Though Bygate is half a world away, DSU is excited to see what their post is able to bring to the New Zealand national team.
"It says a lot about our commitment to basketball," Klauzer said. "It makes us very proud to see somebody from the program doing so well. It goes outside of the realm of college basketball. To see her take it to the next level is definitely makes us 'Blue Hawk proud.'"