Archdeacon: Freshman tackling challenge as team wobbles

After the University of Dayton women had been pushed aside by Fairfield, 90-83, at UD Arena Wednesday night – a loss that dropped the Flyers to 0-9 – freshman point guard Nayo Lear met with her mom and stepdad in a concourse area that overlooked Blackburn Court.

“You could just see the defeat in her face,” Candice Gordon said of her daughter.

Earlier, outside the Flyers’ dressing room, Lear had talked about the tough times and how she’d “feel dizzy and throw up.”

Mother and daughter, though, were not talking about the rough start that has left the Flyers as one of just 17 teams – among the 361 Division I programs – that is winless on the season. At present UD is ranked No. 330.

But there are losses and then … there are losses.

Back in South Holland, Illinois, Lear dealt with some serious health issues that helped scuttle offers to schools like LSU, Penn State, Illinois, Oklahoma, Virginia and St. John’s.

“Around sixth grade I started having issues with fatigue and by freshman year they figured out I had low iron,” Lear said

“We knew she was iron deficient, but we just didn’t know how bad it was,” her mom said.

Regardless, she started her first three years at Thornwood High School and caught the eye of several colleges. Eventually 17 D-I schools offered her a scholarship.

“Her iron issues go so bad that she really got sick,” said UD coach Tamika Williams-Jeter. “She completely couldn’t play basketball and then really shut down in school.”

With anemia, the heart must work harder to make up for the lack of red blood cells or hemoglobin. Along with fatigue, there can be shortness of breath, lightheadedness and headaches.

Lear said for a while she couldn’t play like she wanted and some of the colleges who made offers lost interest in her. And that’s when two things happened.

She said a year ago she got several iron infusions by IV and since then she’s been taking iron pills.

She also enrolled at Example Sports Academy, a high school preparatory for girls in Frankfort, Illinois. Her senior year the team played tournaments around the country and became the 2022 national independent champions.

A month after she was hired as Dayton’s new coach and desperately in need of players to fill a roster decimated by graduations and transfers, Williams-Jeter spotted Lear playing in a tournament in Columbus.

After bringing her in for a campus visit, she offered the 5-foot-10 guard a scholarship.

Lear weighed the offers she still had and she said Dayton stood out to her:

“I knew they needed a PG and I loved Coach Meek ad her staff. I knew the background of Dayton and I loved the fans and the community. This was the best fit for me.”

She said Williams-Jeter told her because of the limited roster, she’d be called upon early to make a contribution. But she didn’t realize she’d be counted on this much already.

In the season opener at Providence, she came off the bench, played 30 minutes, made eight of nine field goal attempts and finished with 20 points.

Against Northern Kentucky she played 45 minutes in the double-overtime loss.

When senior transfer Sydney Freeman missed three games in mid-November, Lear took over the starting point guard duties and has been a starter the past six games.

Wednesday night she played nearly 27 minutes and scored 14 points, though she did show her youth at times and finished with four turnovers, a category in which she leads the team.

“She’s doing a tremendous job,” Williams-Jeter said. “Oh sure, there are the turnovers and there are times when she goes fast and then slips back to high school speed for a few plays, but she’s really talented and when you consider everything, she has a great story.”

Flyers dig big hole

Wednesday night the Flyers came out tentative against Fairfield, a team that went 25-7 last season. won the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference and played in the NCAA Tournament. By the end of the first quarter, UD trailed 26-14.

“They came out swinging on the road and with a bigger crowd than they’re used to (against them.)” Williams-Jeter said. “They were the more aggressive team and we dug ourselves into a hole.”

On the strength of Lear’s eight second-quarter points and 10 by center Mariah Perez, who’s playing the best basketball of her career now, UD went on two significant runs and actually had the lead 42-38 at the half.

But in a recurring scenario this season, the Flyers had another swoon, making just three of 20 shots in the third quarter and trailed 65-55 heading into the fourth quarter.

Although the Flyers finished with a flourish – and cut the deficit to four with 25 seconds left – they came up short again.

Most concerning this time was an injury to Perez with 3:33 left in the game.

The 6-3 senior had just scored her career-high 24th point on a second-chance jump shot in the paint, when it appeared she came down on someone’s foot and immediately fell to the floor in pain.

She already was dealing with leg and ankle injuries and now, as she groped at her right ankle, the Arena became totally silent.

She eventually was helped off the court, but she ended the game on the bench, her basketball shoe gone and an ice bag plastic-wrapped to her foot.

She left the court on crutches.

And the road gets no easier for the Flyers. Sunday they play at Toledo, a veteran team that went 29-6 last year and made it to the WNIT quarterfinals. The Rockets were 6-2 going into Thursday night’s game with Michigan.

Credit: David Jablonski

Credit: David Jablonski

‘It’s not going to happen overnight’

Wednesday night’s game was the Flyers last at home before Christmas and Williams-Jeter wore red earrings that looked like little Christmas ornaments.

“I tried to bring some holiday cheer for you,” she smiled. “But we probably should have had an ugly Christmas sweater game.”

Lear’s stepdad, Gilbert Page, who makes the 4-hour 15-minute drive from Illinois to each UD home game with Candice – and then turns around and drives back, so both can work their jobs at Ford the next day – believes this is more the story of the ugly duckling eventually turning into the swan.

“We know this is a process and it’s not going to happen overnight,” he said. “It’s kind of expected.

“Nayo has another three years here and I think she’s already handling it pretty well considering everything.”

She certainly is.

After all, she knows there are losses and then … there are losses.

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