'Leave everything out there on the court': Star forward Cecily Carl reflects on four years with AU women’s basketball
After winning top Patriot League honors, Carl looks to the future
With every recruiting class comes the potential for a new student-athlete to leave behind an unforgettable mark on a program.
For American University’s women’s basketball team, that player was Cecily Carl.
She has led her team to a WNIT appearance, a Patriot League title and a trip to March Madness, alongside her own achievements on and off the court. With the 2018-19 season being her last, Carl knew that this year would be a little different.
“It meant a little bit more,” she said. “When you know that it’s going to be your last time playing, you want to leave everything out there on the court.”
As a freshman, Carl joined the Eagles as a late recruit from Mechanicsburg, Pa. The 6-foot-3 true forward saw playing time immediately, appearing in all 31 regular season games and starting in 20 during her inaugural season. That year, she averaged 8 points per game while bringing down 4.7 rebounds as the Eagles struggled, finishing the year with an 8-23 record.
“Maturing, especially for me, while being away from home as an 18-year-old was not easy,” Carl said. “Keeping in mind our 8-23 season and wanting to get so far away from that and wanting to be better is what got me and our team to this point.”
Carl would improve slowly but surely during her sophomore and junior seasons, averaging 10 points and five rebounds per game and 13 points and eight rebounds per game respectively.
She made the most strides during her senior year, shooting 40 percent from the 3-point line while scoring 15.8 points per game, snatching 5.8 boards in 33 games. She will graduate as the only player in the program’s history with 1,000 points, 500 rebounds, 100 blocks and 100 3-pointers made in her career.
“It all came down to my teammates developing into better players along with me, and my improvement is really a testament to all of us,” Carl said.
Entering this season having lost six seniors while also coming off a championship-winning year in 2018, head coach Megan Gebbia knew her team needed a new leader. It was a role Carl says she was unfamiliar with, but she stepped up.
“At first, Cecily didn’t like what it took to be a leader,” said assistant coach and mentor Tiffany Coll, who specializes in developing post players. “She didn’t want to be outspoken or deal with controversy, but this year she stepped outside of herself and took on that role while leading through example.”
“The vocal part of leadership was something I struggled with because I’m not the most vocal person, but it’s what I had to step into,” Carl said.
Gebbia explained how after last year’s success, Carl might have felt some uncertainty with carrying that momentum into the 2019 season. But after a meeting with Brian Levenson, AU’s sports psychologist, Carl built a mantra of poise for herself as “her confidence grew.”
“I don’t think she loved being a leader, but she did it because she wanted to win,” Gebbia said.
Carl not only excelled on the hardwood, but was also gifted in the classroom, notching impressive awards in both areas. She managed to earn her accounting degree from the Kogod School of Business in just three years with a 3.89 GPA and is currently wrapping up her master’s degree in sports analytics and management.
Balancing her studies with her basketball career, Carl earned the Patriot League Player of the Year and Scholar Athlete of the Year, noting those two honors as the most meaningful to her.
“It’s a testament to the work I’ve put in, and the work that my teammates, coaches, department and family put in with me,” Carl said.
As all coaches come to learn, each of their players is special in their own ways. Gebbia said she wished she had the talent Carl has on and off the court.
“Being able to step up to the plate and give her best when her best was asked of her is just a unique trait that Cecily has,” Gebbia said. “That smooth stroke, hitting tough shots, her mindset of a coach and her empathy are unique.
Reflecting back on her past four seasons with AU, Carl said her most memorable moment came in the postseason at the end of her junior year, one of the most winningest years in the team’s history.
“The week of the championship game and then going to UCLA were unforgettable,” Carl said. “When we won the league championship, I’d never felt that feeling of pure joy and gratification before. And then playing UCLA at the historic Pauley Pavilion was a once in a lifetime opportunity.”
Gebbia said the Eagles would not have been able to win the 2018 title without Carl.
“Being able to play against players like WNBA draft pick Monique Billings and to outscore and out rebound her shows how Cecily thrives against better competition,” Gebbia said.
While her collegiate playing days are over, Carl still has a full life ahead of her. As her journey continues, Carl finds herself facing the same dilemmas of future uncertainty that most students approaching graduation go through.
“I’ve thought a lot about it, from playing professionally overseas, to getting into coaching, or working for a sports organization. But I would be content with this past year being my last playing basketball,” Carl said. “I’d love to look at basketball from a different perspective and help other players along the way because I’m still a very competitive person.”
Gebbia and Coll said they will do “whatever we can” to help Carl navigate her career options after graduation.
“Cecily is the perfect example of who we’re trying to have graduate from this program,” Coll said. “And we’re going to miss that experience.”