DUBUQUE, IA - This 2019-2020 basketball season started off for the Lady Eagles with multiple challenges. They came into the season with a new coach, having to learn and implement new systems, and needing to adjust to playing with one another. But even though Coach Heather Cunard was in her first year, she understood the game well and pushed her players to reach their potential. She demonstrated care for her players on a deeper level than just basketball, desired them to grow in their love for Christ.
One challenge came early on: before the first game, the team started experiencing injuries and entered the season with three of the team's nine players out of commission due to injury and Fall sports competition. This did not hold them back though. They attacked the challenge head on, by pulling together and kicking off the season with a decisive victory over Nebraska Christian (NCCAA Division l) by a score of 82-50. The women came out ready to play and gave the crowd an exciting show. It boosted confidence for both players and fans, and showed that they were quite capable of being a competitive threat this year. The numbers challenge did not die easy, however; gaining a player and then suffering another injury, the team continued to battle with 6 players. But the team never gave in to the notion that they could not still compete. "One of my favorite things in the world is seeing our six girls run the other team ragged - with their 14 subs!" said Coach Heather Cunard. "I told them from the beginning that we don't need any excuses made for us, and we won't let any such challenges inhibit us from playing to our capabilities and potential."
Following the exciting victory over Nebraska Christian, the Lady Eagles travelled to Chicago to take on the next challenge. "We faced some tough teams and experienced our first losses. I believe we began to learn that a loss can be turned into gain. The frustrating defeats exposed some weaknesses in our game and therefore highlighted areas in which we needed to improve. In addition to on-court improvements, we began to learn how to approach the mental battle and to lean on each other, support each other, and really play as a team," said Coach Cunard. "As a coach, I am constantly assessing our areas of weakness and pushing my girls to improve. I know that can be testing, but they have done a wonderful job of taking it in stride, celebrating victories and improvements, yet always striving for more and never settling for mediocrity."
As Emmaus Women's Basketball passes the halfway mark of the regular season play, they currently hold a record of 6-6. According to Heather Cunard, "We have soundly beaten the teams we should beat, and we have competed in all the games in which we were the underdog. And in one of those games, the underdog came out on top!" A highlight of the first half of the season was the Lady Eagles' game against Grinnell College (NCAA Division lll). After experiencing close losses in the previous two years to the Pioneers, this year Emmaus defeated Grinnell, 80-76. The two teams battled back and forth for the lead the whole game, and never gave the nervous fans a chance to relax. With Kristen Morry and Kia Gelinas making momentum changing 3's, Riley Harding leading with 8 assists, and vital ball movement by all, the victory came down to the final minute of the game, and was sealed with key free throws by Abril Mendez. "I was so proud of our little team!" remarked Cunard. "In all our previous losses, I knew with confidence that we were on the level with the competition and capable of winning. But this time we finally showed it, and the girls absolutely deserved the victory!"
The Lady Eagles have been competitive in every game, even against the larger division schools that went down in the books as losses. The team ranks 6th in the nation in the NCCAA Division II Top 10 polls. The Lady Eagles also hold multiple individual rankings in the nation after the first half of the season.
- Points: Kia Gelinas - 4th, Tiffany Williams - 9th.
- Assists: Tiffany Williams - 3rd, Riley Harding - 6th.
- Rebounds: Tiffany Williams - 1st.
- 3 point percentage: Kia Gelinas - 5th, Kristen Morry - 8th
Another highlight of the season has been the great support from the Emmaus family, as well as the surrounding community…with special shout-out to Dubuque Community Church!
Coach Cunard is pleased with the season thus far. "Looking back on the first half of the season, I feel a sense of pride in our accomplishments and deep gratitude for the opportunity to spend so much time with this special group of women. I am extremely proud of my girls for how they have persevered through difficulty and come together as a team. I have seen so much improvement both on and off the court, and that is worth every minute of time put in. This season has been full of challenges, each of them invaluable opportunities to learn and grow as a team and individuals - on the court, but more importantly, in our lives and walks with the LORD."
"I cherish the relationships with each one of the girls on the team and the opportunity that basketball affords to invest in their lives. Not that it is a one-way street. I have learned so much from these girls and my time with them, and I am sure that I've received much more than I've given. It is so neat to see how God can work in His people and how we are mutually strengthened and encouraged by each other."
Now the Lady Eagles look forward to the second half of the season and starting up the conference play.