The American University Eagles’ women’s basketball season is set for Tuesday. Megan Gebbia enters her ninth season as the head coach of AU and will be surrounded by assistant coaches Tiffany Coll, Nikki Flores and Emily Stallings.
AU also went through little roster turnover during the offseason, and their starting rotation remains relative. Three full-time starters from a season ago — seniors Jade Edwards, Emily Fisher and Taylor Brown — are back to strengthen the team’s two-way play.
“We certainly have the capability to be great on both ends,” Gebbia said. “It could be a very defining thing for this group because I think we could win by a lot more points.”
Edwards led the team in scoring a season ago, averaging a career-high 17.4 points per game. Expect the Preseason Player of the Year to be a Patriot League POTY candidate. Fisher is AU’s returning assistant leader (3.4). She also averaged 11.6 points and 4.5 rebounds per game and provides the team’s energy on the defensive end of the floor.
“Fisher just commands the floor and she’s a leader when she’s out there,” Gebbia said. “She always believes in herself and she always works hard, and you just got to love that in your point guard.”
Edwards and Fisher won’t have to carry the scoring load alone. Senior Brown averaged 10.3 points per game last year. She started in all 11 games in 2020-21. Junior forward Karla Vreš had a breakout season in 2021, and will also help with the scoring. Sophomore guard Ivy Bales is also back after starting three of the 11 games during her freshman season.
2020-21 season recap
AU had a triumphant regular season, going 6-3 and finishing third in the Patriot League. The Eagles rallied late with a win over Navy to earn a Patriot League Tournament berth as the No. 3 seed.
From there, AU did what it always does as top seed: advance in the tournament. The Eagles exposed the regular season, relying heavily on Edwards’ hot hand in a tournament win over Army before bowing out to defensive-minded Boston University in the semifinals.
“It was definitely difficult,” Fisher said. “We really learned to adapt and face adversity, so now we’re prepared for any challenge that will come our way.”
2021-22 season outlook
The team is replete with scoring as Edwards, Fisher and Brown — who combined for 13.1 points per game a season ago — are sure to get buckets. Senior guard Maddie Doring joining the backcourt should further bolster the scoring ability. Doring scored 4.6 points per game two seasons ago, a mark that would’ve surely increased had she not opted out last season.
“What I love about our offense is it is equal opportunity,” Gebbia said. “And if you have five scorers on the floor, I don’t know how you guard that.”
AU’s scoring strength and ability to stretch the floor with shooters will carry them this season. However, some concerns remain.
Projected starting five: Fisher, Doring, Edwards, Brown and Vreš
Fisher, Edwards and Brown will certainly be in the starting lineup.
The four returning guards will have to compete for a starting spot. The center position is Vreš’ to lose, after averaging 2.4 rebounds per game and leading the team in blocks. Stack, who ranked second on the team with nine blocks, provides reassurance as a backup center. Bales, who averaged 4.6 points per game in a limited role last season, and Graytok, who was excellent defensively before opting out last year, provide depth to a position that typically lacks it.
The defense wasn’t terrible last season, but it wasn’t good either. The Eagles finished with mediocre defensive efficiency, allowing 62.0 points per game. AU lost one of its best defenders when Indeya Sanders graduated, so someone will have to step up to fill Sanders’ shoes.
“Indeya brought energy for us,” Fisher said. “We really got to fill that role of putting in the intensity and effort to get all those hustle plays.”
Gebbia could play four guards simultaneously, a move that college basketball hasn’t seen in quite a while. Perhaps AU will surprise with some fresh faces in the mix, but the defense is the biggest question for now.
The Eagles are devoid of an obvious rebounder. With so many guards, AU does not have a primary rebounder. Brown is more of a point-forward. Stack will have a limited role, opportunities to showcase her rebounding ability may be slim. Edwards averaged 7.4 rebounds per game last season, so she could take over some of Brown’s point-forward duties. Time will tell whether Vreš is ready to be featured as the primary rebounder. Still, rebounding will be a question mark this season.
“We are not a great rebounding team,” Gebbia said. “At both ends, defensively and offensively. We scrimmaged Richmond and that kind of showed us that we were weak at rebounding.”
AU should be in the mix to finish somewhere between first and sixth in the conference and figures to be a Patriot League Tournament team. The non-conference schedule is ripe with opportunity; it could very well be the toughest out-of-conference schedule for AU in quite some time. With another expected competitive year in the Patriot League, AU has its best chance to finish in the upper echelon of the conference.
“You can’t just say you’re going to have a good season, you have to play well,” Fisher said. “We hope that we can show everyone that we left everything out on the court.”