This year, three area women’s basketball teams are participating in the NCAA Tournament. All three represent something different: one a national powerhouse (University of Maryland), another a tested tournament contender (George Washington University), and the other a first-time participant (American University). We talked to three people close to the teams to get their take on the teams’ backgrounds and chances this weekend. (Also see our guide to local teams in the men’s tournament.)
University of Maryland Terrapins: 1 seed in the Spokane Region.
First game: Saturday at 1:30 PM versus 16th-seeded New Mexico State. (ESPN2)
What to know about Maryland: The team is young, which means the 1 seed they earned is an overachievement. They lost perhaps the program’s all-time best player last year: Alyssa Thomas, who currently plays for the Connecticut Sun in the WNBA. “They were supposed to be good this year but no one anticipated them being this good,” says Ryan Baillargeon, a senior staff writer at the Diamondback, the University of Maryland’s independent student newspaper. “They were predicted to win the Big Ten, but it was the manner in which they did so that surprised everybody.”
How to watch them: Buckle in, says Baillargeon. “They’re pedal to the metal all the time, which is pretty fun for fans,” he notes. For a team that hasn’t lost since December 3, the tournament should have some added pressure for a team used to running up the score. One of their best players, Lexie Brown, has a well known-father: former NBA player Dee Brown.
What to say so you sound like you know what you’re talking about: “If you guys ever need inspiration, you should watch one of Coach Frese’s pre-game talks!”
Baillargeon’s prediction: Reach the Final Four before losing to top-ranked University of Connecticut.
George Washington University Colonials: 6 seed in the Spokane Region
First game: Friday at 7:30 PM versus 11th-seeded Gonzaga. (ESPN2)
What to know about George Washington: the team set a program record for wins this season at 29-3. Even though it’s their 16th NCAA tournament, it’s their first since 2008. “To bring the program back to where it used to be is quite an accomplishment,” says Jessica Bernheim, assistant director of athletics communications at GWU. Even though it’s a young team, they’re well-traveled: before the season they played and vacationed in London, Paris, Nice, Marseille, and Monaco, and they went to the Bahamas for Thanksgiving. For the sake of the NCAA Tournament, says Bernheim, “we’re not really daunted by” all the traveling. Their star–the Atlantic 10 player of the year, Jonquel Jones–is from the Bahamas. The 6’4″ junior is believed to be only the third-ever scholarship Bahamian women’s basketball player right out of high school.
How to watch them: “There have been a number of times when a few minutes go by, and you think, ‘Whoa, that was crazy!’” Bernheim says. “We like to score.” The group averages 73 points a game, and Jones is responsible for over 15 of them. Even members of the team who don’t play still make noise: Bernheim says senior Bria Bourgeois, who has suffered debilitating ACL injuries the last few years, can be heard singing loudly in the halls of the Smith Center wherever you go. On senior day, Bourgeois sang the national anthem before the game.
What to say so you sound like you know what you’re talking about: “We should also have had the chance to see Jonquel Jones in the World Cup: she was an avid soccer player growing up in the Bahamas.”
Bernheim’s prediction: Reach the Sweet 16 next weekend.
American University Eagles: 14th seed in the Oklahoma City Region.
First game: Friday at 2:30 PM versus 3rd-seeded Iowa. (ESPN2)
What to know about American: It’s their first-ever trip to the NCAA Tournament. They’re led by senior Jen Dumiak, the Patriot League player of the year. Dumiak graduated from AU in three years with a dual degree in math and economics, and she’s now getting a master’s degree in math. She spent the last two summers interning at the Johns Hopkins applied physics lab and received a job offer there after graduation. According to Melissa McKeown, the assistant athletics communications director at AU, the coaches were worried the team would start off 0-6, even though they ended up finishing the season by winning 11 straight. “We had a bit of a challenging non-conference season, but we kind of used that experience to really challenge ourselves in the Patriot League,” McKeown added.
How to watch them: “We play really well as a team,” says McKeown of a group that relied on its seniority to go 16-2 in the conference. “Our leading scorer also leads us in assists.” Dumiak, the high scorer, set a single season record in assists for the program. McKeown says that compared to their opponent on Friday, Iowa, they don’t play too up-tempo, so look for a more evenly paced game.
What to say so you sound like you know what you’re talking about: “Iowa better keep Jen Dumiak off the free throw line, because she shoots 92 percent from there.”
McKeown’s prediction: Abstains from a formal prediction, but says she feels very good about the team’s chances to compete. It doesn’t help, alas, that the Eagles are playing Iowa in Iowa City.