FLAGSTAFF – Twin sisters Nyah and Olivia Moran hoped one day to play basketball together at a women’s Division I program, and their dream became a reality when Northern Arizona University offered them athletic scholarships.
The redshirt freshmen guards, both of whom are majoring in health science and fitness wellness, have made their presence felt for NAU in the Big Sky Women’s Basketball Tournament. On Tuesday, Olivia Moran finished with 12 points – extending her streak of double-digit scoring to three games – in the fourth-seeded Lumberjacks’ 75-57 quarterfinal victory against the fifth-seeded Montana Grizzlies.
“It’s always been my dream to play collegiate basketball,” Olivia Moran said. “But to be able to share this experience with my twin sister … it’s so special to me.”
Playing together is nothing new for the Morans. They have shared a court, and accolades, since they were 8. During their senior seasons at King High School in Riverside, California, Nyah averaged 11.8 points and 7.5 rebounds while Olivia averaged 14.4 points and 8.1 rebounds. They shared MVP honors on their team and both were named to the All-League first team and All-CIF second team.
Each received individual offers from various schools, but the twins wanted to continue playing together at the collegiate level. Olivia said that goal narrowed their options because not many programs were willing to recruit both hers and her sister as a “package deal.”
“We’ve always just done everything together since we were little, honestly,” Olivia said. “Nyah’s my best friend, and I couldn’t imagine doing anything without her.”
At first, NAU coach Loree Payne didn’t have the Moran twins on her radar. At a summer tournament in Las Vegas, Payne said, she initially was looking at a player from the team Nyah and Olivia were facing. But once Payne saw the intensity and effort the sisters brought to the court – and their obvious skill sets – she knew she wanted them to be a part of her program.
“We were in a situation where we needed two guards,” Payne said. “For us, it seemed like a great fit. It allowed them to be able to come together, and it’s working pretty well so far.”
Nyah said she and her sister didn’t know Payne was recruiting them until she messaged the twins on Instagram.
“It was kind of out of nowhere,” Nyah said. “And it was really exciting just to have someone that showed a lot of interest in the both of us because we knew that we wanted to go together.”
Olivia described the recruiting effort of Payne and her staff as “really special” and said, “I feel like that was a huge reason why we made our decision to go (to NAU).”
The twins made an immediate impact, appearing in all 29 games as freshmen, with Nyah starting seven of those. She averaged 4.4 points and scored a career-high 15 twice against Montana State, while Olivia tallied 3.6 points per game and contributed a career-high 21 against Utah State.
In their second year in Flagstaff, the Moran twins have become a bigger threat offensively. Nyah has increased her scoring average to 5.3 points, and Olivia has scored in double figures seven times, five more than last season, while averaging 5.9 points.
“They kind of got thrown into the fire a little bit as freshmen, but I think they handled themselves really well,” Payne said. “I think they have improved a lot over (this past) offseason, and you can just see the continuing improvement. And we’re very excited about where they could be down the road for us as well.”
Their early success is undoubtedly due in part to the bond the sisters share on and off the court. Olivia said her teammates feed off the chemistry of the twins, which helps the team’s overall performance.
“Since we have been playing together for so long, we just know what we like to do,” Nyah said. “We just know what each other’s going to do.”
Olivia explained it this way: “We can just see each other play.”
As siblings in the same sport, they are naturally competitive with each other, as became clear during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We would play one-on-one together because that was the only thing we had,” Nyah said. “We would just get in fights and trash talk a lot. It’s just really competitive, and it’s really fun to have someone to do that with.”
Olivia said their competitiveness with each other “is 10 times more” on the court than off it, adding, “It definitely makes us better (basketball players).”
On Wednesday at Idaho Central Arena, the Lumberjacks will face No. 8-seed Northern Colorado, a team NAU split the regular-season series with. Tip-off starts at 5:30 MST. The Lumberjacks have not made it to the conference title game since 2007, and the last time they won the championship was in 2006.
According to Charlie Creme’s latest bracketology projections, NAU is not projected to be selected for the 2022 NCAA Tournament. But with two more victories, the Lumberjacks would win the Big Sky conference tournament and automatically punch their tickets to March Madness.