More than a game: What basketball has meant to Gabbie Dunn
MIDDLEBURY, CONN. – Looking back, Gabbie Dunn admits she wasn't nervous.
It's December 2, 2016, the first game of the season for the Westover varsity basketball team. The gymnasium inside the Fuller Athletic Center is packed. The fans are here to witness Gabbie, a junior, become the first Westover athlete to reach 1,000 career points. The excitement is palpable.
"I felt comfortable during the game," she recalled more than a year later.
It makes sense looking back. The sport of basketball has always been a comfort for her.
"I think when I'm on the basketball court I can really express myself that I don't do in other ways," Gabbie said.
While the 84-foot court is where she does some of her best speaking, the last four years at Westover have allowed for other voices and passions to develop and blossom.
"People don't know how deep she really is," her mom, Iris Rivera-Dunn said. "Since her time here (at Westover) she's gained so many more tools to express her feelings."
That's why on Saturday, February 10, all the celebrations and hoopla of her accomplishment – becoming the first Westover athlete, and just the eighth female high school basketball player in NEPSAC (New England Preparatory School Athletic Council) history to reach 2,000 points – is something she's proud of.
"I've grown a lot," said Gabbie of her time at Westover. "You learn that you have your own voice, and your own opinions, and every year you grow. I never thought I would be reaching 2,000 points; it feels good. I feel like I'm always trying to do my best, and it's a place I can perform well.
AN EARLY TALENT
Gabbie grew up watching the University of Connecticut women's basketball team. Her favorite player was No. 23 Maya Moore.
"I was obsessed with UConn at the time and my grandma used to call me Maya Moore," Gabbie said with a smile. "That's kind of why I wear No. 23; it just stuck."
Sports have always been a mainstay in the Dunn family. The memories began in the driveway in Watertown playing pickup basketball games against her cousins – junior Maddy Therrien's older brothers – and her siblings, Zulie '16 and Ellie '20.
Described as the more quiet, sensitive, and shy one of the family, Gabbie, a three-sport athlete, gravitated toward the game of basketball because she was the best at it.
"I think that's where she felt comfortable," her dad, Kevin Dunn said. "She's a lefty, and she was different; it was her own thing, and she was good."
In middle school at St. Mary Magdalen in Oakdale, Gabbie scored 1,000 points.
Westover varsity basketball coach Marty Pelosi remembers going to the school almost weekly to watch her play.
"She just has great vision on the floor to know what we should be doing or shouldn't be doing," Marty said. "Still she's very receptive to you telling her how to move forward, so she's very in tune basketball wise."
During Gabbie's first varsity season at Westover, she averaged 21.3 points per game, while racking up 33 assists, 125 rebounds, 66 steals, and 35 blocks. In her first two years she netted 991 points with her 1,000th point coming the first game into her junior season. While the endless stream of points almost have the presumed notion they will come each game for the 5-foot-6 guard, it's been a tireless work ethic and desire to be the best that has allowed her to keep moving forward.
"The last two years are what are really impressive, in that everyone knows who she is," Marty said. "Every time she's double teamed, and somehow, someway she finds a way to score 25, 30 points. On the basketball court it's a 100 percent mentality. Never in four years have I had to say, 'Gabbie hustle,''Gabbie get going.' We talk about her 2,000 points, but she's really a great defender. She takes as much pride in her defense as she does her offense."
MORE THAN BASKETBALL
Long-time English teacher Tom Hungerford calls Gabbie a reflective person.
"She has a way, as she does in basketball, to see into things," Tom explained. "Sometimes without even knowing it, she'll kind of get the point of a class, the point of a book in ways that are surprising and that make her enjoyable to teach for me. It also helps we talk about (Steph) Curry all the time."
While sports are what most people identify Gabbie with, it's her characteristics that stand out and mean the most to her peers. First Athletic Head Maddie Hurtgen remembers a fun bus ride where Gabbie joined in on silly rap. She remembers freshman year first getting to know Gabbie during sports camp when they stayed around just shooting the soccer ball.
"She's just so funny, she can crack a joke at any moment," Maddie explained. "And she's one of the most generous people I know. She's just always thinking of other people and how she can help them. She's very much a family person."
One of four girls, the youngest being Maleah, Gabbie lists her family as one of the most important things to her. In the summer of 2015, she went on a Westover community service trip to Rwanda with Zulie and her dad. That Thanksgiving, she and Zulie traveled to the Dominican Republic with an organization based in Puerto Rico called J. Christ Ministry -- founded by Iris' cousin, Rey Rivera. There, they worked with underprivileged children and homeless families.
"Gabbie's experience here (at Westover) has really focused her," Marty said. "She's a strong student and she has lots of other interests, passions, and cares about other people. She values things that are important to her."
A QUIET LEADER
A captain for the past two seasons, Gabbie said she's been able to grow into a role that traditionally demands more of a vocal presence.
"She was always a captain on the floor but you need a captain to be a captain on the floor and off the floor," Marty said. "And this year she's turned the corner. She's grown from a quiet player to a quiet leader."
This season she's averaged 23.1 points, 5.8 rebounds, 4.1 steals, 3.6 assists, and 2 blocks a game (coming into Saturday), but it's been more than the mind-boggling stat line she's contributed to. With a roster of six underclassmen, she's helped foster a successful team for the future.
"Freshman year her talent was obvious, but as she's gone throughout the years, I've especially noticed her ability to encourage and give confidence to other players," Maddie said. "I'm not very confident in myself in basketball, but Gabbie is always there to cheer me on. It's not so much the talent anymore, it's her constant work ethic and support of the team."
LIFE AFTER BASKETBALL
Gabbie, who turned 18 earlier this month, is still undecided if she'll continue the game of basketball at the collegiate level. And that's okay.
"Here's a kid who's more interested in a school with an architectural interior design program than basketball," Marty said. "That's such a great testament to what you want a Westover education to provide for you ... open your eyes to the whole world."
Iris explained Gabbie doesn't share a lot, but at certain times she'll open up a slight window into her world.
"She doesn't give away everything," Iris said. "All those little moments away from basketball, that's Gabbie. It's going to be interesting where she ends up because she's my unpredictable one."
But for now, Gabbie is content with everything Westover and the game of basketball have allowed her to do.
"She's gotten more out of basketball than shooting the ball," her dad said.