Just another season for the Gallaudet University Women’s Basketball Team...except it’s not. The team just concluded it’s third year under the guidance of Head Coach Stephanie Stevens, who is known for demanding the best of each of her players. They have had to overcome challenges such as retaining only five players from the previous year and a roster that averages just under 5’7”. Coach Stevens led the team from a 7-18 record her first year as head coach to a 15-12 record last year, including a win in the first round of the NEAC Tournament. But coaching, team leadership, and teamwork would determine how the team would progress this season.
Coach Stevens’ credentials are quite impressive. After a college career as a point guard with the University of Cincinnati Bearcats, she joined the Bison as a graduate assistant under the tutelage of Head Coach Kevin Cook during Gallaudet’s epic 2010-2011 season. That season culminated in a 24-4 record and a playoff berth. The following year, she was an assistant at the University of Maryland as the Terps made it to the Elite Eight round of the NCAA Tournament. She was named head coach of the Bison the following year. Loyal Bison fans would certainly have high expectations for the team this year after the remarkable improvement between her first and second years at the helm. She had just one assistant, yet an exceptional one.
Graduate Assistant Nikkia Smith was the only assistant coach for the second half of last season and would continue to be this season. Also a former Division I athlete, playing for the University of Hartford Hawks and coaching at Deaf camps make her eminently qualified to coach at Gallaudet University. She is graduating in May and unfortunately moving on, but has had the opportunity to sharpen her leadership skills coaching the Bison. She reminisces, “I have learned so much about the managerial side of coaching and about how to connect with different people to help them reach their full potential.” That skill would be relevant as the coaches prepared guards during practice to play in the post in case the need arose during a game. But leadership doesn’t end at coaching; leadership within the team is always crucial to success.
The team had four seniors this season: Co-Captain Elena Ciccarelli, Alexa Justus, Leslye Kang, and Co-Captain Lane Peters. Elena, a three sport phenom, has just wrapped up an impressive career. Her contribution to the team is not always evident on the stat sheet as she focuses on defense and setting picks. She, no doubt, has the talent to capture the spotlight, yet sacrifices personal glory for the good of the team. As a starting forward, she averaged 6 boards a game and had five games in double digit rebounding. She posted her best numbers against Valley Forge with 10 points, 11 rebounds, and 5 steals. Alexa didn’t play much during the first part of the season. In January, as she was given more court time and eventually became a starter at shooting guard, her scoring increased and she was often in double digits. Despite a slow start, she ended up averaging almost 7 points per game as she became a dependable threat with her outside shot. Leslye, Bison of the Year for 2011-2012, and former Bison track and field star, sacrificed her body and frustrated offenses by taking more charges than American Express. Impressively, all three have international experience playing for USA Deaf Basketball: Elena and Leslye on the U-21 Team and Alexa for the Deaflympics Team. Lane would not qualify as she is the only hearing one of the four. At 6’ 1”, she was the only 6-footer on the team. The 2012-2013 Bison of the Year was the leading rebounder with 10 a game and third in scoring averaging 7. She recorded five double-doubles including a 18 rebound, 12 point game at home against Penn College. Her departure along with Elena’s, who is 5’10”, will leave fellow forward and volleyball standout Danielle Morris at 5’10” as the only player over 5’8” who is eligible to return to the squad. Each of these players will be sorely missed, however, the team is in good hands and the future looks bright as they will pass the baton to competent leaders.
Zamica Gage and Co-Captain Danielle Warren will be expected to take charge on the court next season and both are well-prepared. Both also have international experience playing for USADB on the U-21 Team and Zamica also played in the Deaflympics. Zamica began the season as a starting shooting guard and shifted to starting point guard around the midpoint. She led the team with 16 points per game and nearly 3.5 steals to go along with them. She took several hard fouls when driving to the hole, but showed her leadership through her persistence and toughness. Dani started at shooting guard and trailed only Zamica in both categories with over 8 points and nearly 2 steals per game. She is such a fighter that she came down hard once in practice and needed atntion from the athletic trainer, but refused ice treatment so she could continue practicing with her teammates. The type of leadership and dedication these ladies show through their actions exemplifies the very heart and soul of Bison Pride!
Zamica and Dani will be seniors next year, but there is much to be hopeful for beyond next season. Elena, Dani, and Zamica will be joined by the exciting former U-21 player Sabina Shysh, who maximizes every minute of playing time and the deceptively quick Juliana Apfel, on the USA Deaf Basketball Team for the World Deaf Basketball Championship in Taiwan in July. All three freshmen Kori Koss, Ashley Kingston, and Sabina showed their Bison Pride as they shaved their heads on Bald Day as is customary (and optional) for first year Gallaudet students. The team is rounded out by guards Miriam Goldberg and Jazzmin Washington who faced stiff competition for playing time on a guard heavy team. Their contributions were not taken for granted. In the words of Coach Stevens, “All of our players did a fantastic job exceeding our expectations as the should every season.”
The team ended up at 14-11 and made it to the first round of the NEAC Tournament. It may seem like they came just short of their accomplishments from the previous season, but this team held their own. Penn State-Abington was 14-1 and unbeaten in the conference...until they came to the Field House! Conference foe SUNY Polytech (formerly SUNY IT) fell to the Bison for the first time since the 2011 NEAC Conference Semifinal. The team was short in height, yet tall in heart and hustle. With four key players graduating, a high turnover of athletes each season, and an undersized roster, the Gallaudet University Women’s Basketball Team may seem to face insurmountable odds next season. The Bison may be short in stature, yet outstanding coaching, talented and sacrificial team leadership, and each player giving 100% will net big rewards!