Surprisingly Good

Jeremy Gustafson

Tracy Gahan is full of surprises. Astonishing really, how easy the game of basketball is for her. Fluidly draining three-pointers from the corner. Unexpectedly pulling down rebounds at a rate of a girl much taller than she is. Playing any position from power forward to point guard with ease.

Perhaps even more surprising is how a player with her skill modestly retires from the spotlight, a realm better occupied by the Cyclones’ most notable stars, guard Lindsey Wilson and All-American center Angie Welle. In fact, a perfect game for Tracy would be dropping 15 points on a team while it struggles to guard her, grabbing eight boards, winning and letting Wilson and Welle talk about it.

Emphasis on winning.

“Tracy is the kind of player that, if you were at open gym, she’s the one you’d want to pick,” Wilson says. “It doesn’t matter if you need a shooter, if you need a rebounder or if you need somebody to play defense, whatever needs to be done, Tracy will do it.”

So while Wilson is scoring 20.1 points per game and Welle 19.8 (one and two in the Big 12), Gahan is perfectly comfortable playing third fiddle. Hitting a three to start a run, pulling down a rebound in a crowd, taking the ball up court while Wilson is being pressed – she does it all – whatever it takes to come out victorious.

“For once she is somebody who doesn’t really care, except about winning,” Wilson says.

Tracy does everything so well on the court it is surprising that not long ago she wasn’t even sure if basketball was the sport for her.

“I wasn’t really into basketball or really competitive,” she says. “I did it because I had some success with it.”

Playing AAU ball changed all of that. Tracy developed her skill and her shot. Soon this unsure kid from McKinney, Texas, was earning a plethora of awards – Class 4A Player of the Year, all-state twice, all-district four times and three times the most valuable player. She had gone from uncertain player to a future star . for the University of Texas, or maybe Oklahoma.

“[Iowa State] was probably one of the latest that got in recruiting me,” Tracy says. “I was pretty much set on going somewhere in Texas or maybe Oklahoma.”

Her coach, Bill Fennelly, is happy she chose to be a Cyclone.

“We were very lucky, without question, that she has such great ties to Iowa State,” he says.

What if Tracy was a Sooner now?

“Oklahoma would have had a better time beating us, I think, than they have,” Fennelly says with a grin.

Given a quick course in Gahan family history, the choice to come to Iowa State doesn’t look so tough. Tracy’s mother, Terry, and father, John, were set up on a blind date here. Her older brother, Jeff, was an All-American on the now-defunct Cyclone men’s swimming team, and younger brother Brian currently plays for the Cyclone men’s basketball squad.

“[My parents] were very supportive of me, wherever I chose to go,” she says. “They never pressured me to go here.”

Even having a brother at Iowa State didn’t sway her as much as one might think.

“In high school, I don’t even think we talked to each other,” Tracy says. “Once I got here we got a lot closer, but I never would have known that. That’s definitely not why I came here.”

But having family close helps. Brian is now a friend that, when the ISU women’s team was struggling at 2-5 in the Big 12, Tracy could talk to.

“She was frustrated,” says Brian, whose own team recently ended an eight-game losing streak. “She knew what the problem was. She kept going to the gym and working on her game trying to get herself better so she could help the team.”

Working to help the team win. Could be a theme for Tracy, who hates to lose. Just ask her brother.

“We haven’t played [basketball] in seven years probably,” Brian says. “Last game we played when I was in seventh or sixth grade, we couldn’t decide who was gonna win. It came down to a three-point shot, first one to hit it would win, and she did. Now she won’t play me so she can claim the last victory one-on-one.”

While shots against her brother came easy, shooting the ball at Iowa State has always been something coaches and teammates would have to pry out of Tracy.

Fennelly could be heard screaming “Tracy, shoot the ball,” any time during her freshman and sophomore years. Despite making nearly 41 percent of her three-pointers in her career, Tracy is more comfortable grabbing a rebound or playing solid defense than she is scoring.

“Sometimes I would shoot it just to be shooting it, so I wouldn’t get yelled at,” Tracy says.

When you have players like Stacy Frese, Megan Taylor and Welle in the lineup, it’s easy to give them the ball and watch what happens.

“She probably got it as hard from me as any player I’ve ever coached,” Fennelly says. “I was on her really hard. It’s bad because she might be one of the nicest people I’ve ever met in my entire life, but I was on her unmercifully at times.”

As a senior, Tracy is still comfortable watching someone else score.

As long as the team wins, it’s okay with her.

“She’s so selfless, sometimes during games this year we’re like `Tracy, you need to shoot,'” Wilson says.

Tracy is perfectly comfortable in that way. It takes a tough player to swallow their pride and fall into whatever role they need to fill. Toughness, though, is something Tracy has an abundance of.

Looking at her it’s hard to see. She’s not exceptionally tall, 6 feet, and not exceptionally big – just don’t call her skinny – but she is averaging 7.5 rebounds a game. Even people in the crowd are taking notice.

“[There was] some comment about how I was a lot stronger than I looked,” Tracy says. “Everyone my whole life has said I’m so slender; it’s kind of annoying.”

How tough is she?

As a freshman she broke a bone in her wrist during warm-ups before a game against Northern Iowa on Dec. 20, 1998. She played 20 minutes, scored five points and grabbed six rebounds – with a broken wrist.

That tough.

“She’s 10 times stronger than she looks and 10 times faster than she looks,” Wilson warns. “She lifts as much as anyone on the team.

“I think Tracy just gets boards because she outworks people.”

Her scoring average isn’t too shabby either, at 15.3 per game. For most teams, that would be superstar material. But Tracy isn’t looking to be a star.

“She kind of shies away from the attention a little bit,” says teammate Holly Bordewyk. “She’s not a player that wants the spotlight; that’s not her nature really.”

But could she be the star?

“If she wanted to be, probably,” Bordewyk says. “I think her numbers could be better if she wanted them to be better.”

She has also let others take over the role as team leader. Wilson is no doubt the most vocal Cyclone, but Tracy leads in other ways, by example.

“Tracy is more behind the scenes,” Fennelly says. “Number one, she does it by example, which is the greatest way to lead. You show up every day, be committed, do the right thing, listen to your coaches, not complain and be willing to sacrifice for your teammates. All the things that the coaches preach to their teams – when you have a kid like Tracy doing it for four years – that’s the way to do it.”

Indeed Tracy may be the dream player. Someone that can do everything on the court and sets an example off the court too.

“The fans just love her,” Fennelly says. “It’s one thing to be special on the court. It’s another to be special off the court.”

She can also shed her sweet and innocent appearance.

“She’s got that streak in her,” says teammate Mary Cofield.

Cofield would know, she usually catches flak from Tracy on the team plane. Cofield has a fear of flying.

“She’s such a wimp,” Tracy says. “It’s kind of fun just because she’s so afraid of flying. It’s so easy to pick on her, and I sit right next to her.”

Tracy says she doesn’t want to seem morbid, teasing Cofield about a possible crash, but that’s just the way the whole team is.

“Once people get to know me, I can be very . sarcastic,” she says.

It all comes back to winning, though. The team’s sarcasm leads to an easy-going behavior, which leads to wins.

But for the last three years the season has ended in the NCAA Tournament’s Sweet 16. Still Tracy doesn’t dwell on the past, she’s looking only at the future.

“Our goal is to continue winning from here, make the NCAA Tournament and where we go from there, we’ll have to see when we get there,” she says.

The ultimate goal will be making the Final Four and who knows what can happen in March.

After all, Tracy Gahan is full of surprises.