BY SAM LEEPER
LAS VEGAS - Without a doubt, it has been a very positive season for the American University women's basketball team. The Eagles currently hold a 14-8 record, including a 9-2 mark in the Patriot League. The turning point to this campaign may have come back in November, when American participated in the South Point Thanksgiving Shootout in Las Vegas hosted by Sport Tours International.
Going into the Shootout the Eagles were winless with losses to George Washington, James Madison and Princeton. By the time the weekend was over, American had earned two hard fought, upset victories over Gonzaga and Oregon. It might not have been the best daily double ever in Las Vegas, but the Eagles left town full of smiles, plenty of enthusiasm and renewed confidence in each other and their team.
Their first win of this season came versus Gonzaga, and it was the first ever victory by American over a top 50 team. "We had come so close, so to finally get that victory over a very good and nationally ranked Gonzaga team was huge for our program," said American head basketball coach Megan Gebbia.
The Thanksgiving Shootout turned out to be a perfect match for the Eagles early in the season. "Everything surrounding this tournament was great - the venue, the hotel, the weather - it was perfect. And, we played pretty good basketball." Gebbia was excited to play the two games, for several reasons. "It gave us a chance to play big programs and to evaluate our players at key positions," said the coach. "In our league we do a lot of three-point shooting. At this tournament, we got a chance to look at our post play because, if we could improve our play in the middle, it would make us a much-better basketball team. Overall, the tournament certainly got us ready for league play."
In the win over Gonzaga, Junior Michelle Holmes led the Eagles with 15 points but American needed a pair of three-pointers from Arron Zimmerman down the stretch to clinch the victory. At the time, the Bulldogs were averaging 84 points per game, but American held them to just 56. "Ultimately, we executed our game plan," said Gebbia. "We had three days to prepare for Gonzaga, and we were able to focus on their tendencies and do the little things to win the game."
The Eagles didn't rest on their recent laurels. One day later American knocked off Pac-12 Conference member Oregon, 72-64. The main reason for the Eagles' success against the Ducks was the play of senior Jen Dumiak, who ended the game one rebound shy of a triple double - 22 points, 10 assists and nine rebounds. Dumiak bounced back from a tough game against Gonzaga the day before, when she failed to score a field goal.
"What a terrific game we got from Jen," said Gebbia. "It was great to see her nail shots and make free throws when we needed them the most. Being able to knock off two very good basketball programs in consecutive days isn't easy."
Just as the tournament was a success for the Eagles on the court, the trip was just as memorable off the hardwood. The team was able to celebrate Thanksgiving with their families when American ate at a local Brazilian steakhouse. The dinner was attended by over 40 people. Also, the Eagles got to take in a Cirque du Soleil show while in LV.
"Yes, this trip was about basketball, but it also was about quality time spent as a team and with parents," said Gebbia. "Seeing the parents so excited about our wins, plus the time we had at dinner, made this trip truly a memorable one. We can't wait to come back."
Sometimes tournaments in November, before league play begins, can be just what the doctor ordered for a team trying to put all the pieces together. For the American University Women’s Basketball team, it certainly was the spark for what has become a promising season. The Eagles arrived in Las Vegas without a win and left with 2. But more importantly, they left as a team believing in each other and looking forward to the opportunities of the season ahead.