Digging in for Dugan

Rolando Rosa

FAU women’s basketball, dressed in pink jerseys for Breast Cancer Awareness Month, had an 11-5 record in conference play, earning the No. 2 seed in the Sun Belt Conference Tournament and a first round bye. Photo courtesy of FAU athletics.

When an immediate family member passes away, it is not uncommon for a person to take a leave of absence from their job. But the death of Chancellor Dugan’s mother was not enough to keep the workaholic coach away from the hardwood. Jane Dugan passed away the same day the Owls were set to play against FIU on Feb. 4.

Instead of handing over duties to an assistant, Dugan pulled herself together and coached, but not wanting to worry her team, she kept the tragedy a secret until afterwards. Her courage and professionalism spoke volumes to her players, who already viewed Dugan as a legitimate role model, but now had even more respect for her.

“Coach Dugan is really strong. When it happened we didn’t even know. It was a game day and we had no idea. She held her composure,” senior guard Teri Stamps said. “She’s just tough, man. That’s exactly how I want to be. So I just try to be as tough as her. She showed no emotion about it. We did not know at all.”

To Dugan, though, there was no option but to coach. Her mother wouldn’t have had it any other way.

“I just knew that she would kick my butt if I didn’t [coach]. I knew that’s where she wanted me to be. She loved these girls,” Dugan said. “There’s been so many cards that I’ve gotten, and letters, emails, people facebooking me, from people that I’ve known since I first started coaching. They’ve always known her. They’ve always known my mom. It’s really sweet to hear everything that they have to say about my mother. I pull all my strength from her.”

Now the team pulls their strength from Dugan and the uncertainty that life brings. The passing of Jane Dugan gave the players even more incentive to appreciate each moment.

“It really makes us realize we never know when it’s our time, so we need to go out there and give it our all every single day. You’re not promised the next day,” Stamps said. “That’s what we’ve been focusing on, practicing and playing as hard as we can every day.”

The Owls, the No. 2 seed in the Sun Belt Tournament, came back from an 18-point halftime deficit to knock off North Texas 56-55 on an April Goins put-back layup with just under two seconds left. FAU fell to UALR the next day in the semifinals, but history was still made. It was the first ever victory in the tournament for the program. The effort given by her team is something Dugan does not take for granted. She raves about the intangibles of her 17-12 squad, which was picked to finish fifth in its division.

“This team has been playing hard all year,” Dugan said proudly. “Giving me everything they’ve got.”

What Dugan had was a team with a balanced scoring attack. Chenise Miller led the team in scoring at 10.8 ppg. This made the team unpredictable to defend.

“Our offense is for everyone to score. We don’t focus on one person to score a certain amount of points for us to win,” Stamps said. “That’s what a team really is: give anybody the ball and know they can score.”

Being the No. 2 seed, FAU had the spotlight on themselves to produce. However, to the team, there was no pressure, because to them, they were used to being hunted no matter their record.

“I feel like teams having been coming at us even when we were No. 13. I feel like everyone despises FAU,” Stamps said. “Teams are ready to play us all the time.”

This mindset is one advocated by Dugan. She set the goal of a Sun Belt banner at Midnight Madness before the season, and while it didn’t happen, her squad far exceeded outside expectations.

Not that it surprised them.

“We stayed together and believed in each other,” Stamps said. “We didn’t care about what everyone else was thinking.”