May 2, 2008

Maduka Makes Mark on Cornell

Print More

It’s a breed of athletes that gets rarer and rarer as you ascend to the upper echelon of sports: the two-sport athlete. It’s easy for children to play both tee-ball and soccer when they’re five years old, but maintaining skills in two sports gets harder as the competition gets older and bigger. In the uncommon occurrence that one finds a two-sport athlete in collegiate athletics, it’s almost guaranteed that he or she is an athlete of exceptional caliber, and Jeomi Maduka, the Sun’s Athlete of the Year for 2008, is no exception.
Maduka competes in women’s basketball and track, and to say that she excels in both would be an understatement. She led the basketball team in scoring, rebounds and steals and recently qualified for the Olympic A-trials in long jump. Maduka was named Ivy League Player of the Week for basketball on multiple occasions throughout the season and was even named Ivy League Player of the Year, which was one of her pre-season goals.
[img_assist|nid=30420|title=Rox my sox|desc=Jeomi Maduka excels at basketball and track.|link=node|align=left|width=|height=0]
“She became a more well-rounded basketball player,” said head coach of women’s basketball Dayna Smith. “The first couple years, she used her athleticism to beat people and score and block shots. This year she became more conscious of what she needed to do without the ball, she became more conscious of team defense. Off the court, she was more involved with our team and developed good friendships and chemistry with the players off the court. She was around more, there’s not a stat line to measure that and I think that was so valuable for her in allowing her to have the kind of year she had personally and also valuable for the team since she became a true member of the team.”
That increased interaction with the team was something that Maduka made a conscious effort to work on.
“The things I worked on were more mental like maturing as a player,” she said. “As a team, we believed in each other more and had more confidence. When we said we were going to be Ivy League champions at the beginning of the season, we really believed it this time.”
The Ivy League championship did not come easy. Although the team was in first place for most of the season, it suffered a disastrous road sweep the weekend of Feb 29. With losses to Dartmouth and Harvard, the Red fell out of first place and the outlook for the season seemed glum.
“It was really sad. When we played that Friday at Dartmouth … we were really hoping for a big win there but that didn’t happen,” Maduka said. “Then right after that there was no way I could stay because I had already made the decision to leave whether we won or lost. It was tough because I couldn’t help my team out because I had to be hleping my other team out at the track meet. … That week of practice after that was pretty tough too because we felt like everything we worked for was diminished, we didn’t feel like it was possible to be champions because Harvard was a game ahead of us.”
That weekend was especially trying for Maduka, because she had previously made the choice to skip the Harvard game to be with the track team. But later in the season, Harvard suffered a loss to its traditional rival Yale, and the Red was back in the hunt. The Red ended up winning the Ivy championship and facing off with UConn in the first round of the NCAA tournament. Despite the disappointing game in the tournament, the team hopes to make an encore appearance next year, with Maduka at the helm.
“She was able to do that, for next season if she can dedicate as much time as she did this year if she puts her mind to it she can really reach the stars,” Smith said. “I would hope she can lead us back to another title. It’s something we’ve talked about a lot, we want to get back there. We don’t want to just have one winning season, we want to have a winning program and start to create tradition. If Jeomi can duplicate or exceed the type of year she had this year, we’ll be well on our way to accomplishing that next goal.”
Although she had many exemplary games throughout the course of the season, Smith pointed to one, the home game with Harvard, as Maduka’s defining contest.
“She set the tone for us in the second half when she scored like eight straight points and put to rest any question that the first half was a fluke,” Smith said. “She played fantastic defense. … I don’t even know what her stats were for that game but I just remember her presence and her determination and the rest of the team just fed off of that. There was just no way we were going to lose that game, she wasn’t going to allow us to lose it.”
That kind of determination and competitiveness is something that teammates have come to expect from Maduka. Even with all of her accolades, she remains humble and thankful that she’s able to compete at such a high level.
“I really think that I’m blessed to do what I’ve been doing and I really thank God every day that I’m able to do it.”