The Iona Gaels' women's basketball team is headed to the NCAA Tournament for the first time in five years, thanks to a remarkable season that culminated in both MAAC regular season and tournament titles. While they may be underdogs against Duke in the opening round, the Gaels are hopeful that their unique blend of talent and diversity will carry them to victory.
A Diverse Roster More than half of Iona's women's basketball team is made up of international students from all around the world. Among them are four players from Spain, as well as others from Iceland, Israel, Georgia, and Slovakia. According to Iona coach Billi Chambers, this international blend of talent has created a unique and beautiful brand of basketball, melding the high-tempo style of American basketball with the technical prowess of European basketball.
Uniting for a Historic Season Despite being ranked fifth in preseason coaches' polls, Iona managed to capture both the MAAC regular season and tournament titles, finishing the season with a 26-6 record. Iona's roster is a testament to Chambers' recruiting acumen, as she has assembled a team of both international and American-born talent. This diverse squad has gelled together and achieved remarkable success, with Chambers being named MAAC coach of the year.
Cultural Experiences The Iona Gaels' locker room is a microcosm of the world, with players from six different countries and four different states. The diversity of the team has allowed the players to learn from each other's cultures, languages, and traditions. They take turns cooking meals for each other and introducing each other to their favorite dishes from home. They have also learned to appreciate each other's customs, such as the Spanish tradition of eating dinner at 9 p.m. or supporting their Georgian teammate through her twice-a-week fast for religious reasons.
A Future Pipeline Iona's success with international players began in 2016, when the Gaels won their previous MAAC championship with a team that included two European players. Since then, Iona has been on the international radar, with coach Chambers' experience in Europe and success at a collegiate and professional level playing a role in recruiting international players.
The Iona Gaels' women's basketball team is a testament to the power of diversity, as players from different cultures and backgrounds have come together to achieve greatness on the court. Their story is a reminder that sports have the power to unite people from all around the world, breaking down barriers and creating a shared sense of purpose and community.