Valerie Dunlap and hard work have been best friends this year. And if Dunlap’s play for the Washington & Jefferson College’s women’s basketball team continues to improve by leaps and bounds, her summer workouts might become the stuff of legend around Henry Memorial Center.
Dunlap, a 6-3 sophomore center, played the best game of her young career Tuesday night, scoring 20 points, grabbing 14 rebounds, blocking seven shots and contributing three assists as Washington & Jefferson remained undefeated by outlasting Allegheny 56-51 in overtime.
The win improves the Presidents to 3-0, and they have Dunlap to thank for the latest victory. Though it was W&J junior transfer Chelsea Apke who made a turnaround jumper from the side of the lane with 6.5 seconds left in regulation that forced overtime, Dunlap was the player who kept the Presidents in position to win.
While the rest of the Presidents struggled offensively for much of the night – during one 15-minute stretch W&J made only one field goal – at one point in the second half Dunlap had scored more than half of her team’s points.
Such a statistic was only a pipe dream for Dunlap when she arrived on the W&J campus last year. She averaged only seven points per game as a senior at Latrobe High School, which failed to make the WPIAL playoffs during Dunlap’s three years with the Wildcats. Last season, Dunlap averaged 3.7 points and 10 minutes of playing time per game as a W&J freshman.
“In high school, Val didn’t shoot very often. She played in the high post and was used to swing the ball from side to side,” said W&J coach Jina DeRubbo. “She didn’t have many moves on offense, but I liked the way she moved from side to side. And at 6-3, she was a shot blocker, so I said why not recruit her? Last year, she continued to get better. She was like a sponge – she listened to everything you told her and did everything asked of her.”
This past summer, Dunlap took her game to another level by spending countless hours in the gym, working on specific low-post moves and shots.
“She was in the gym every day,” DeRubbo said. “She put so many hours in playing, lifting weights, running. She lived here all summer, and working out is about all she did.”
The hard work has been paying off nicely. In the season opener against SUNY-Fredonia, Dunlap had 16 points, nine rebounds and five blocked shots. The Presidents led that game almost from start to finish. Against Allegheny, when the Presidents spent much of the game battling from behind, Dunlap was their go-to person on offense. And on defense, Dunlap was a general nuisance to Allegheny, which shot only 28 percent from the field.
“This might have been my best game by the numbers, but I still have a lot of areas in which I need to get better,” Dunlap said. “Last year, as a freshman, it was such a big transition for me. I didn’t know what areas I needed to work on and how I could improve. This year, I wanted to prove that I could be a threat on offense, and I spent a lot of time during the summer working on that part of my game.”
Dunlap scored eight points in the first half, which ended with W&J leading 21-20, but the Presidents made only one field goal over the final 10:22. In the second half, Dunlap scored eight of W&J’s first 11 points, though the Presidents fell behind by five points several times.
Allegheny (1-2) led 47-43 when W&J guard Kara Seamon grabbed a long offensive rebound and drove for a basket that pulled the Presidents two within two points with 48 seconds left. Following an Allegheny turnover, Apke made her eight-foot turnaround that forced overtime. It was the first basket for Apke, who over the weekend was named MVP of the Penn State Behrend tournament that was won by the Presidents.
Apke was held to nine points by Allegheny.
“Without Chelsea scoring, it took a huge effort from everybody else for us to win,” DeRubbo said. “We buckled down when we had to and got some stops. I’m proud of the way we played. Val stepped up and was huge for us.”
Dunlap’s basket off an offensive rebound opened overtime and gave W&J the lead for good. Two jump shots by Apke pushed the lead to 53-49 and Allegheny never got closer than three points the rest of the way.
Beka Bellhy, a freshman forward from Fort Cherry, scored 12 points for W&J. Daryl Ford paced Allegheny with 16 points and Emma Pellicano had 15.
“This was a total team effort,” Dunlap said. “We kept our cool when we fell behind.”