17 November 2015: Wake Forest used a 15-4 run in the second quarter to pull away from Davidson in sending the Wildcats to their first defeat of the season by the score of 77-58 Tuesday evening in non-conference women’s basketball at Lawrence Joel Veterns Coliseum in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. Mandatory Credit – Tim Cowie – DavidsonPhotos.com

Emma Johnson

Staff Writer

Division I athletics are challenging no matter the school, but they are especially difficult at Davidson, where athletes are challenged mentally and physically, both on and off the court. Being a successful D-I athlete at Davidson for all four years requires dedication, sacrifice and incredible passion for the game. Basketball forward Dakota Dukes ‘16 has all of those qualities.

From her very first season, Dukes has been a model of hard work on the team, and that com- mitment has taken her far in her Davidson career. Last year, she was awarded the Wildcat Award for the team, and she has shown herself to be a lead- er on the court to those around her. In her final season with the Wildcats, she is averaging 14.4 points and a team-high 7.4 rebounds per game. Her .530 shooting percentage also leads the team.

Ahead of the team’s final stretch, I looked back with Dukes on her time with the team, what she hopes to accomplish this season and how her experience playing basketball at Davidson will continue to shape her life after graduation.

As a freshman, Dukes was already seeing the qualities of leadership and camaraderie first hand. From Sophia Aleksandravisius ‘13 and Laura Murray ‘14, upperclassmen when she was a freshman, Dukes learned how to confidently lead a team, and she worked to incorporate what she saw in them into her own leadership style. That was only part of the work; the other part was put- ting in the effort. Dukes knew that the skills do not come easy, but she had to go get them. Right from the beginning, she has strived to put in the work every day to be a starter in almost every game of her career, and improve on her skills year after year. Her tireless work with the team shows this season, where she has proven herself to be a consistently strong player and teammate.

It has not been the easiest season so far for the Wildcats, who sit at 9-13 overall and 3-6 in conference play. “Right now,” Dukes explained, “the team is feeling optimistic, but also chal- lenged.” That is the mindset they take into each game, especially Atlantic 10 matchups, as the team seeks to prove that it is a presence in the conference. As a senior, Dukes seeks to absorb all that she can from each and every moment with

the team, both the good and the bad, so she can continue to grow and learn.

The season started with a bang for the Wild- cats, with a huge win over Furman on Novem- ber 13. “We came out ready to play”, Dakota told me. “In my four years here, we’ve played Furman every year and usually they came out with the [win]. But this year, we showed them that we were the better team”. From there, Dukes set her goal for her last season: to give everything she can to the team. “In practice, in the weight room, on game day, I want to do everything I can for my teammates for as long as I can,” she continued. As a team, the Wildcats are hoping to pull out a few more wins the rest of the season to build momen- tum for a big run in the A-10 tournament, which takes place in the first week of March.

There has been plenty of joy along the way. Late November, in a huge win against UNC-Wilmington, Dukes became the 18th play- er in the program’s history to score 1,000 points. In that victory, she scored 20 points, grabbed 13 rebounds and blocked 6 shots. That performance, along with two other stellar showings in a 3-0 week for the team, earned her the College Sports Madness A-10 Player of the Week honors.

For Dukes, the power of the game will not leave when she steps off the court for the last time. The lessons she learned and friends she made will continue to influence her long after the buzzer sounds. “My favorite part of playing bas- ketball has 100% been the relationships I’ve made with my teammates”, Dukes told me, describing how her teammates have her back on and off the court, and how she knows that they can look to her for the same.

The intangible skills have similarly left their mark, as basketball has helped Dukes find leader- ship, assertiveness and confidence in everything she does. Overall, basketball has taught Duke to be tough – to pick herself up every day both mentally and physically to tackle any roadblock, a skill that she hopes to take away with her as she applies to graduate schools and jobs in business.

As Dukes put it, Davidson basketball literal- ly brought blood, sweat, and tears into her life. With her teammates, she has reveled in the wins, struggled through the losses, poured herself into practice, worked away the in-between hours in the library, and found her strengths with these girls who she has spent every day with over their

Dakota Dukes ’16 has been a menace on the block this season for Davidson, averaging 14.4 points and 7.4 rebounds per game. Photo by Tim Cowie.

six-month seasons. “I am so incredibly thankful that this pro-

gram has brought us all together,” Dukes said. In these next five weeks, we can be sure that these

impressive qualities will show themselves as she works to finish her Davidson basketball career with the same passion and dedication that she has carried with her these last four years.