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March 6, 2013

Gaskin ready to cap senior season

PH grad playing for Purdue Calumet in NAIA tourney

ANDERSON, Ind. — It is really a perfect climax for an unexpected dream.

When Amanda Gaskin finished her high school career at Pendleton Heights, it looked like her basketball career might be finished as well.

“I really wasn’t planning on playing in college,” Gaskin said in a Wednesday telephone interview. “We had just gotten beat by Skylar Diggins in the semistate. All of the offers were NCAA Division III schools, which couldn’t offer any scholarships.”

But the coach at Purdue Calumet (an NAIA school), Tom Megyesi, was watching. “He saw me play in the semistate and he made me an offer. I went there for a visit and I felt right at home. I liked all of the girls. It’s always been a dream of mine to play in college. NAIA is just as good as any other place. I just didn’t see myself playing anywhere else.”

So for four years she has played for the Peregrines. Playing in every game for all four years — a mark of her incredible durability and work ethic. She has started in 92 of her last 93 games for Purdue Calumet.

Now all that work has been rewarded by the NAIA as her team is in Sioux City, Iowa, to play today in the national women’s basketball tournament, it is the first-ever trip to the championship for Calumet. The Peregrines are 21-9 and will take on the Grand View University Vikings (21-5) in a game that starts at 9:45 p.m. (EST).

“Every year this team has improved,” Gaskin said. “These four years have gone by so fast. We deserve to be here. Our conference (Chicagoland Collegiate Athletic) has five teams in this tournament. It is one of the best conferences in NAIA.”

The Peregrines could have gotten an automatic berth by winning the conference tournament. But they lost to Roosevelt (Ill.) 101-96 in overtime in the semifinals. So they got an at-large berth. Eleven teams were chosen as at-large teams and Purdue Calumet was the third selected.

Her role on the team feels familiar to the 5-foot-10 Gaskin. “I am playing in the post or as forward,” she said. “It feels just like high school.”

She averages 9.4 points and 10.2 rebounds on the season. She hits 49 percent of her field goals, including 37 percent from 3-point range and 72 percent of her free throws. “I’ve always been that type of player,” Gaskin said. “I seem to be able to know where the ball is going to go. I don’t need to score that much because every single player on my team can score. But my role is also to guard the other team’s best player.”

For the Vikings that will be 6-1 senior center Morgan Hamner, who averages 15 points and seven rebounds. “I will just front her and try to keep her from getting the ball,” Gaskin said. “I know I will have players on the help side.”

Gaskin as been able to rise to the occasion when needed in scoring and rebounding. In the conference tournament against Olivet Nazarene, she scored a season-high 20 points on 8-of-11 shooting. On Dec. 18 at IU-South Bend, she had 18 rebounds.

She feels like the entire experience has been more than she thought it could be.

“I’ve been really blessed,” she said. “My parents make it to every (home) game. That’s a long three-hour drive.”

She has had even more support. “Coach (PH assistant Denny) Wallace and Coach (former assistant Ed) Clark have been up to see me,” said Gaskin, while choking back some overflowing emotions. “Coach (former head coach Shari) Doud has sent me messages. She just sent me one encouraging me. If I would have gone farther away it might not have been possible for them to do that.”

When she graduates in the spring she will have a degree in hospitality, tourism and management. Her family (parents Darla and Ernie Gaskin) are in the horse racing business. She hopes perhaps to join her sister (Emily) in working at Hoosier Park. Emily is the racing publicist at the Anderson track.

But right now Amanda hopes to be on track for a few more games for the Peregrines — beginning tonight.

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