By Lily Hiser, Duke Sports Information Student Assistant
DURHAM, N.C.-- Before the lights go on, before the crowds show up, and before the shot clock buzzes, a dedicated group of Duke students are hard at work in Cameron Indoor Stadium, preparing for game time. These are the Duke women’s basketball team managers, the behind-the-scenes squad responsible for getting everything ready for the practices to the road trips to the games running smoothly. Led by the example of six seniors, Nathaniel Brown, Sonia Xu, John Clarke, Nina Cervantes, Natalie Shammas and Erin Weber, the managers have a reputation within the program for efficiency, dedication, and hard work, truly embodying the philosophy of the organization and contributing to the success of the Blue Devils.
“It’s amazing their efficiency and it’s amazing their commitment,” commented head coach Joanne P. McCallie on the performance of all the managers, especially the seniors. “They always have a smile on their face, they’re always ready to do what it takes, they’re always team players, and they understand the operations of an organization and how things work.”
For four-year manager Sonia Xu, she was seeking a tight bond community to replace the team aspect she left behind in high school sports. Fellow four-year managers Nathaniel Brown and John Clarke were drawn to the position by a love of basketball and a longing to stay connected with the sport without competing in it at a varsity level. Whatever drew them to the position, the now senior managers found an opportunity with the women’s team to foster their abilities to cooperate, lead, and organize, as well as nurture a love for Duke’s basketball program.
As for their responsibilities, the managers are the invisible forces behind the day-to-day operations of practices, home game set-up, in-game stat taking, and away game traveling.
“We do standard housekeeping, we’ll set up for practices, clean up when they’re over, and we help set up for games and other miscellaneous tasks,” explained four-year senior Nathaniel Brown on the squad’s responsibilities.
Some of their responsibilities even take place off the court, work designed to further the program. “We’ll do office work like sending mail to recruits,” Brown added.
The managers split up practice and away game responsibilities, with each manager attending about half of the weekly practices and away games, along with all of the home games. This is an impressive time commitment, but their love of the job makes the work seem easy.
Many of the responsibilities that the managers have may go unseen by the fans, but their hard work does not go unnoticed by the players and coaches.
“I think that the best part about being a manager, especially for the women’s basketball team, is that we very much feel like we are a part of the team,” noted four-year senior John Clarke. “It’s not like we’re just working or staff members who kind of do all the dirty work. It’s not a thankless job. We very much feel thanked and appreciated by the team, from the players who are all very gracious to the coaches.”
Part of the reason for this sense of gratitude is the level of involvement that the managers have on the team. Their roles go much further than just their responsibilities behind-the-scenes. The managers are encouraged to be vocal during practices and games, cheering on the players and pushing them to meet the standards that they are held to.
“Hearing the managers cheer is bringing the energy off the bench,” said freshman Mikayla Boykin on their energy. “Sometimes I feel like they’re in competition with each other to try to see who can cheer the loudest.”
It is this high-level of involvement with the team that creates such a strong bond between the managers and the players. Moments like the 2017 summer Italy trip, which the senior managers went on, are exciting and memorable for the squad, but even simpler moments, like just hanging out with the basketball players as fellow Duke students, are just as meaningful.
As the seniors move on from their days spent in Cameron Indoor Stadium and onto their post-graduation plans, the skills they have accumulated through their managerial duties will be assets to them in any path they pursue. For some, like Xu, who worked in the NBA last summer, their experience in the sports industry may lead directly to a future career. Regardless of where their path may lead, however, the memories made as a part of the Duke women’s basketball team will stay with them forever.