DII women's basketball: Bentley's star Jen Gemma takes team-first approach
Senior Jen Gemma turned in the type of performance Saturday in her final regular-season home game for Bentley that was worthy of her stellar career.
Gemma treated the crowd at Dana Center to 20 points and 17 rebounds in the Falcons’ 92-66 victory over Saint Anselm.
On Feb. 8, Gemma became the first player in school history and just the fourth player in the Northeast-10 Conference to record 2,000 points and 1,000 rebounds. She reached both milestones in the same game, an 84-68 victory over Southern New Hampshire.
“It was exciting, especially the 1,000 rebounds,” Gemma said. “That is something I have taken pride in ever since I started playing. It was a cool experience. I was excited to be able to celebrate it with my teammates.”
Bentley coach Barbara Stevens said Gemma would much rather put the spotlight on the team instead of herself.
“She is also probably one of the humblest kids I have ever coached,” Stevens said. “She has had a lot of attention both on the court and off the court but whenever somebody tries to single her out, it makes her uncomfortable. She would much rather have the talk be about the team. She is a tremendous teammate. It is team first with her. It has always been.”
Friday afternoon, Gemma talked about her upcoming final regular-season home game. She figured she would feel plenty of emotions. She hoped it wouldn’t be her final home game.
She is able to think like that because the Falcons have now won 11 straight games to improve to 23-4 overall and 19-1 in the NE-10. In addition, Bentley is third in the East Region, behind Adelphi and Queens (N.Y.), in the first regional rankings that came out last week.
“This is a proud program with prideful players,” Stevens said. “They understood what they were up against, and they understood to contend for any championship this year they had to get it together and they have.”
A year ago, Bentley earned a trip to the Elite Eight and reached the semifinals before falling to Lubbock Christian. In Gemma’s freshman season (2013-14), Bentley went 35-0 and won the national championship.
Gemma was the first player off the bench her freshman year on a team that had seven seniors.
“They were definitely great role models, especially coming in as a freshman,” Gemma said. “They were great players and great people and teachers. During practice, they were always helping me to get better and get acclimated to the program.”
Now Gemma is the senior the underclassmen follow. But she wasn’t the only senior Bentley honored on Saturday. Melina Kollia from Greece and Julia Davis have also made their mark on the program in different ways.
Kollia took a while to adjust to playing college basketball in another country but always excelled in the classroom. She earned her undergraduate degree in three years and is now in graduate school, seeking a MBA.
Davis waited until her sophomore year to come out for the team. The previous two years she helped the team by playing on the scout team. She continued to get better. Davis was selected co-captain this season with Gemma.
Watching the growth of players like Gemma, Kollia and Davis means a lot to Stevens, who is in her 31st season coaching at Bentley.
“They come in as bright-eyed freshmen and they leave confident, secure seniors. They are young women who are ready for the next phase in their lives,” Stevens said. “It is a real emotional journey for me as a coach to watch our freshmen go through that process, that development both on and off the court.
“When they leave, we hope we played some role in making them better people, better students and better players.”
Playing for Bentley is an experience Gemma will carry with her for the rest of her life.
“She runs a tight ship,” Gemma said. “I learned from the second I came here how the program works and how much time it takes to be a really successful basketball team.
“The lessons she gives to us about resiliency, hard work and one game at a time. That has been something I have been able to carry with me throughout my career. That is the reason we have been successful because of the emphasis she puts on how you carry yourself and how hard you have to work for something.”
The Falcons showed those traits in Gemma’s four years. After winning the national title in 2014, Bentley won only 11 games two years ago and quickly bounced back to a 29-6 season last year.
Stevens gives credit to Gemma for helping the team return to championship form.
“One thing about Jen that has held throughout her career is she shows up every day ready to go to work,” Stevens said. “It is great when your best player is your hardest worker.
“She has really established a tremendous work ethic throughout her career for the underclassmen to follow.”
One of the underclassmen who has played well during the 11-game winning streak is junior point guard Macchi Smith.
“Her emergence as a consistent scorer from the point guard position has played a big role in us getting better,” Stevens said. “She is a legitimate offensive threat that teams have to focus on and she is also a very good defender. She is a leader on the floor and makes us go.”
Bentley concludes its regular season Tuesday at Merrimack. With 2,062 career points, Gemma is only 51 points away from becoming the program’s all-time leading scorer, surpassing the 2,112 points by Lauren Battista, who was the 2014 WBCA Division II national player of the year. Battista was one of the seniors Gemma played with as a freshman.
“She understands it is an individual goal but at the same time, obviously if she can score, we have a shot to win games,” Stevens said. “But the best thing for her is for the team to win and be successful and she did what she did without any kind of fanfare.”
For Gemma, this time of the year is exciting because all the games mean so much more. After the regular season ends, Bentley heads into the NE-10 Tournament and then hopefully earns a spot in the NCAA Division II Tournament while securing the highest seed possible in the East Region.
21-17 Bentley at the end of the 1st. Jen Gemma has now recorded 1000 rebounds! #GOBENT— Bentley W Basketball (@BentleyWBball) February 8, 2017
Gemma has already experienced two Elite Eight appearances and a national championship. She understands just how special it is to get that far.
“It was unbelievable, especially last year,” Gemma said. “The year before last, we did not have a good year. For us to bounce back the way we did and make it that far was so exciting. It is something I will remember for the rest of my life, winning those games with my teammates.
“I love this time of year. We work all season to get to the playoffs. It makes these games so exciting. I can’t wait.”
Regardless of what happens for the remainder of her collegiate basketball career, Gemma, who is majoring in marketing, will cherish all aspects of being a student-athlete at Bentley.
“The support from the Bentley community is awesome whether it is the president of our university or my peers,” Gemma said. “The support we get from them has been great whether we are having a great season or not so great season. I will remember the experience for the rest of my life.”
Ashland women’s basketball team is alone
After beating Findley 102-68 on Saturday, Ashland is the only NCAA Division II basketball team, women and men, that is undefeated this season.
Northwest Missouri State, the last undefeated men’s basketball team, lost Saturday at Missouri Southern.
WBB: No. 1 Ashland gets to 27-0, scoring 100+ points for the 10th time this season! AU has now won a program-record 15 straight road games! pic.twitter.com/XaLVDAf414— Ashland Athletics (@goashlandeagles) February 18, 2017
Ashland is scoring points at a scary rate. The Eagles have scored over 100 points in five of their last seven games and at least 90 points in their last eight games.
Ashland, 27-0, plays its final regular-season game at home against Tiffin on Thursday.
"We've done a very good job all season of just taking it one game at a time,” said junior forward Julie Worley on Ashland’s website. “The next game is the most important.”