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‘We can really show that we’re one of the best teams in the ACC’: A Q&A with Boston College Women’s Basketball Freshman Maria Gakdeng

BC Athletics

Maria Gakdeng has already made her mark in Boston College Women’s Basketball history as a true freshman, becoming the first Eagle since Carolyn Swords and Stefanie Murphy to win the ACC Freshman of the Week award four times in one season. Her strong play has helped the Eagles to a 15-8 record, and has already in 2022 set career highs in points scored (21) and rebounds (16).

She leads the ACC in blocked shots and is 10 blocks away from surpassing a program record of 58 blocks set by Elisabeth Houghton in 1982-83. Gakdeng also currently has the most consecutive starts as a freshman since Swords, having started in all 23 of BC’s games so far this season.

Prior to BC, Gakdeng was ranked 76th nationally for the Class of 2021, and 18th for her position.

With the Eagles set to take on #5 NC State Thursday evening, we sat down with Maria to chat about freshman year, winning ACC honors, staying grounded and more!

To start, why did you choose BC?

I chose BC because first, the coaches were really adamant in recruiting me. When I first got a call from [Coach] Porcha, he was telling me that I have a lot of upside, and not a lot of coaches were telling me that. Also after looking into Boston College, I saw that it was a really good academic school, and one thing I emphasize and my parents as well is education, so I thought that was really good. We play in a Power 5 conference [too], so you get the best competition every night, so I thought it would be a challenge coming here and that’s why I chose BC.

BCWBB was going through a little bit of a rebuild these past few years and has been on the upswing recently. Can you talk about why you wanted to join a program that was in that phase?

I think that joining a program that is coming back from something just shows that I have faith in them and that I can be a part of something great. This season we’re doing a lot better than last season and I saw that we had really good pieces last season — but going into this season we had a goal and we were set on it, and I think we are really getting there. We’re past midseason and we’re doing really well. And I feel like these last couple of games we can really show that we’re one of the best teams in the ACC.

You mentioned the coaching staff earlier, but what is it like playing for Coach McNamee?

Every day Coach Mac pushes me to be a better player and a better person. I came here and I was really quiet — I’m still kind of quiet — but one thing she really emphasized was me talking. And since June, when I got here, I’ve gotten way better at that. When I found out that I would be starting for the team I really focused on how I could be a better teammate and a better athlete in the program and be more coachable, so that’s something I’ve developed under Coach Mac. And also she’s just a really great person — she’s really easy and fun to talk to. She’s really great.

Which player on the team have you learned the most from?

This one’s kind of hard, because I think it’s between Marnelle [Garraud], Clara [Ford], and TSoule [Taylor Soule]; they really helped me throughout this season. TSoule and Marnelle have given me a lot of wisdom because when they were freshmen, they were also starting; they were kind of thrown into the fire and they learned a lot from it. And just hearing that perspective [is helpful], now they’re seniors and they’re doing great. TSoule is amazing, Marnelle is amazing. Just learning from them and getting advice off the court even — for everyday things, like how to manage life, Clara’s really helpful with that, [and] how to take everything day by day is key because it can get really overwhelming.

From an outsider’s perspective, it looks like the upperclassmen have done a great job fostering community on the team — as a freshman, can you talk a little bit about what joining this group has been like?

Coming into this I was really nervous because I didn’t really know anybody, but I knew that they were all great people. I hadn’t visited [earlier] or anything. When I came in June, right off the bat everyone was really cool. The first day we did an ice breaker in one of the rooms and it was just really fun; I was learning who was funny, who was more serious, we were all cracking jokes, and throughout the summer we all got really close. Especially because they were already a close team, adding us freshmen and a transfer was really great, and we just added to how close they were before.

Why do you think you were able to adjust to the college game so quickly?

Even before [I came to BC], once they offered me, they told me that I would be playing and I was really excited about it, [so] I just knew that I had to prepare. Over the summer when I first came, there was a lot of development going on, so that really helped and shaped how I play right now and how I adjusted. Also, my junior and senior year of high school I played for a nationally ranked team and we played some of the best teams in the country so I think that really helped me as well.

I knew coming into the ACC there were some really tough opponents who were definitely going pro, so I was really adamant about getting better each day and adjusting quickly. In the beginning of the season I was a little shy, a little timid, but I’ve definitely adjusted since then, into the midseason and into ACC play.

What has it been like getting so many ACC honors already and how do you balance that pressure with trying to stay grounded?

I think that my teammates really help me stay grounded. They’re who I go to if I need anything, like if there’s a lot of pressure on me I can talk to one of them about it; the seniors are really helpful about it.

It’s really great that I’m getting the recognition and it’s really exciting because I know that I can keep going and that I can do more than I’m doing. I talk to my mom a lot about it because sometimes it’s a lot and you have this pressure to keep going. I just take it day by day, and take the time that I have off to relax and know that even if I don’t get honors or certain honors, I’m okay with that because I’m getting better every day.

You guys have had some really big wins recently — how do you carry that energy and momentum through the season?

Going into the season initially we already knew we were going to be really special, so getting these big wins is exhilarating and really fun. Just having an amazing team that’s supportive on the bench and cheering is really great. Getting some of the big wins that we’ve got was just momentum to keep pushing and to finish the season off strong, because we’re trying to go to March Madness, to go to the ACC tournament, and we’re trying to win all of that. So going into the season we had this idea and our goal set, and we’re just going after them.

You’re playing NC State tomorrow - how do you prepare for that, especially coming off a tough loss but also knowing that you’ve played really competitively against top teams at Conte?

Playing at home is definitely an advantage, so tomorrow even though we’re playing a pretty tough team I feel like if we stay disciplined, play with high energy, patience and poise and don’t rush — if we put all the pieces together and all four quarters together — it can definitely be a win against a top 25 team. We’ve done it before so I think we can do it again.

What area of your game has improved the most since coming to BC?

I think the patience part — Coach Porcha had always honed in on patience and poise, he told me to write it down and put it on my wall. Being patient even when I get the ball, just not going straight into my move and looking around, having core vision — seeing if I need to kick the ball out. I think that’s the biggest part [of my game] that’s improved.

And also being loud and talkative, because playing in stadiums like Louisville or Georgia Tech or Virginia Tech is loud, so I have to be really loud. So I make sure I’m talking on the side in practice and try to encourage everyone to push themselves which helps because it just builds habits.

Okay, now time for the fun questions!

Most surprising part of freshman year?

The amount of freedom that I have is really different from high school and being at home! So after practice, having time to do anything that you want to do is kind of different, so I kind of just take that time and manage it, and if I want to have fun I can have fun.

Favorite thing to do in Boston?

During the summer we liked to go to Fenway Park a lot, there was always a game going on and we’d go there with recruits, then we’d go bowling.

There was this one time we were at the bridge near Fenway and there was a drummer there, and the whole team was there and just dancing. Just spending time with the team, going out with my friends — I met a lot of people at school who aren’t athletes and I think that’s really important to have friends outside of your sport so just having those friends and hanging out with them on a daily basis is really fun.

What song do you currently have on repeat?

I have a couple of songs on repeat, but right now I really like Law of Attraction by Dave and Snoh Aalegra.

Do you have a favorite dining hall meal, and if so - what is it?

Before, it was General Gao’s but they changed the chicken so I don’t really like it anymore but now I think it would be the mac and cheese and popcorn chicken. And I put barbecue sauce on it.

A huge thank you to Maria for sitting down with us! (right before class, and right before a huge game!)

Tickets for the game against NC State can be found here.