Tom Archdeacon: It’s a small world for UD women’s basketball

They are two of the greatest leapers the University of Dayton women’s basketball program has ever had:

Not for how high they can go, but for how far they have come.

And that was all sight unseen.

Maddy Dennis, a 6-foot-2 freshman forward from Perth, Australia, agreed to come to UD without having ever set foot on the campus or having met any of the Flyers coaches face to face.

A few years before that, Jodie Cornelie-Sigmundova, a 6-foot-4 forward from Strasbourg, France, committed to the Flyers without ever having seen the Dayton campus either.

Although Flyers coach Jim, Jabir did come to Strasbourg to meet her mom and stepdad and eventually see her play, she couldn’t really talk to him at the time.

“My English,” she said Sunday with a smile, “was…crap.”

It wasn’t so much the words that came off Jodie’s tongue, said Jabir, as it was the feeling both she and Maddy had in their guts when it came to UD.

“Maddy took a leap (of faith) and Jodie did that, too,” Jabir said Sunday afternoon after the pair had combined for 29 points and 10 rebounds in the Flyers’ 87-64 victory over Wisconsin at UD Arena.

Dennis, playing just her third college game, started for the Flyers in place of Cornelie-Sigmundova for the second time in a row. She scored 13 points and had five rebounds.

Along with her 16 points – which tied her for team honors with Kelley Austria – Cornelie-Sigmundova had five rebounds.

In her career, Cornelie-Sigmundova has played in 97 games for the Flyers, started 35 and tallied 517 career points, 440 rebounds and blocked a whopping 192 shots.

Jabir is pressing her to be more aggressive and he said he likes the offensive “punch” that Dennis – never afraid to hoist a shot – gives the Flyers for now. Their roles, he said, could reverse again or they could be out there together.

“Hopefully the experiment works,” Jabir said.

The other one – the one requiring the no-look leap – seems to be.

“I sent out video information to quite a few colleges and Dayton was interested,” Dennis said. “And I was interested, too. The one thing that really made me want to come here was the family atmosphere. Being so far from home, I felt I needed that. Family is a really big thing to me.

“And I have no regrets now that I’m here.”

“She made the right choice,” Cornelie-Sigmundova said.

Jabir shook his head at what he was hearing and grinned: “It took Jodie three years to say that.”

She laughed, but offered disagreement: “Only a year and a half.”

As for her seemingly quick adjustment, Dennis simply said,. “It’s exciting.”

She said her parents were following the Wisconsin game over the Internet back home. With the 13 hour time difference, it was 3 a.m. Monday when the Flyers tipped off Sunday.

Meanwhile, in Strasbourg, which is six hours ahead, the UD game started at 8 p.m.

If Cornelie-Sigmundova’s mom wasn’t glued to the broadcast, it’s understandable. Over the past 10 days, people in France have focused on the terrorist attacks that killed 137 and injured 352 in Paris, which is nearly five hours to the west.

“There’s just so much happening back there now,” she said quietly. “We have a very famous Christmas event in my hometown – Marche de Noel. It’s huge (it draws over 2 million people) and now I hear they don’t know if they’re even going to have it.”

She speaks regularly to her mom, who has given her some advice:

“She tells me to have a neutral opinion on all this and I think that’s because she’s kinda scared.

“I have a friend I talk to here (Sinclair player Steven Perriere, from the Paris suburb of Villepinte). Some of his friends were close to the bombings. My dad and his family lives in Paris, too. But they’re OK.

“I’ll be truthful, I’m kind of glad not to be in France right now.”

When she came to the U.S., she said it was her mom who really chose Dayton for her: “I was young. I didn’t care. For me the U.S. was the U.S. It didn’t matter where I went. I was looking for adventure.”

Jabir laughed: “Jodie is an adventurer.”

And such adventures are becoming more and more the fabric of UD women’s basketball.

This year’s team also has Andrijana Cvitkovic from Kraljevica, Croatia and Saicha Grant-Allen from Hamilton, Ontario.

“The world has gotten a lot smaller,” Jabir said. “There aren’t any secrets. There are great players all over the world and we’re going to go wherever we’ve got to go to find them.”

When they got Cornelie-Sigmundova, she first had to prep a year at Oak Hill Academy in Virginia to learn English and hone her hoops skills.

“I wouldn’t say it’s easy,” she said of an international student-athlete’s plight. “At first I was very homesick. But as soon as I made really good friends here, then they became my family. And they’re the people I look for in the stands now.”

Since coming to UD, Cornelie-Sigmundova has not only become a formidable player – this year she was voted Preseason All Atlantic 10 Conference second team and All Defensive Team – but she’s also an impressive student.

She’s getting a degree in chemical engineering. Last season she won A-10 All Academic honors. The season before she was named an Arthur Ashe Jr. Sports Scholar.

The biggest salute she got Sunday, though, was from Jabir for the way she’s handled her role reversal with Dennis:

“I’m proud of her,” he said. “When she lost her starting spot, she hasn’t sulked. She hasn’t gotten sad. She’s played hard and she’s shown she’s someone we can rely on.”

After Jabir left, she talked about going from a starter to coming off the bench:

“It doesn’t bother me that much. I’m not worried so much about who starts, just that we end up winning. I don’t care about the beginning, just how it ends up.”

Spoken like a person who’s willing to take the leap.

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