What if I told you that unseen battles sometimes are visible?
On Thursday, February 17th, as Cleveland State went through the early stages of its pregame routines at Oakland’s Athletics Center O’rena, the proceedings carried a bit of extra weight to them. The Vikings had just experienced a disastrous home weekend ending four days prior, one that saw CSU drop a highly-anticipated contest with tied-for-first-place Youngstown State in overtime followed by a stomping at the hands of Robert Morris, a team in the other half of the conference standings.
The pair of losses placed the Vikings at 15-6 overall and 10-5 in the Horizon League, the latter number all but eliminating CSU from the conference’s regular season title. Nevertheless, there remained plenty of targets to hit before the end of February – most significantly, a top-four finish that would guarantee a first-round bye in the league tournament, along with a quarterfinal round game at the Wolstein Center. In order to secure those advantages though, the winning needed to start immediately. “Immediately,” of course, meant on the road against a dangerous Golden Grizzlies team with a string of impressive results on its resume, including a win against YSU on January 30th.
Cleveland State, for its part, seemed to understand the situation at hand and the importance of what would eventually turn into a three-leg Michigan road trip, with two contests at Detroit Mercy following the game at OU. The team laid down a practice on Tuesday that head coach Chris Kielsmeier would later call their best of the season, followed by another good workout after making the trip on Wednesday, and seemed ready to apply some of that renewed focus to the season’s home stretch.
There was just one problem, a rather large one that was immediately apparent: star redshirt senior forward Nadia Dumas wasn’t on the court. Was she hurt, either at practice or undetectably during last weekend’s games? Was it possibly COVID, a personal issue, or something else beyond a traditional injury? Would Amele Ngwafang be able to absorb the extra minutes after playing most of the season in a platoon with Dumas?
Suddenly, before anyone could develop fully-formed answers to those questions, and just under an hour before tipoff, Dumas emerged from the O’rena’s corner tunnel on the bench side of the court and casually began to throw up shots with her teammates. She went on to score 20 points while pulling down ten rebounds, a headlining effort in a decisive Vikings win, while most outside of the program likely never even noticed that anything was amiss.
That the story ended so anticlimactically is, in itself, the story. But let’s step back for a second: where was Dumas?
“I don’t even know where to start,” she admitted.
Well, we can start with the fact that on February 17th and 18th, southeast Michigan and Northern Ohio were pelted with a winter storm that began as rain, froze over in the hours before CSU took on Oakland, and was eventually topped with a record snowfall of more than six inches. And Dumas had separated from the team to drive back to Cleveland before returning on gameday. After all, she’s in nursing school (she already has a bachelor’s degree in health sciences, graduating cum laude) and had to get her clinical hours in, regardless of where she’s scheduled to play basketball.
“I need a certain amount of hours at the hospital,” Dumas explained. “I’m basically shadowing the nurse and being the nurse and helping the nurse out at the hospital, and I need a certain amount of hours so I can graduate. If I miss a certain amount of hours, then I won’t graduate and you actually get kicked out of the program.”
So Dumas left the Detroit suburbs, flew past her hometown of Toledo around 1 a.m., and arrived in Cleveland at 3 a.m. for her 5 a.m. shift at the Cleveland Clinic, then headed back to Michigan shortly after 1 p.m., but only arrived just before 6 due to the weather.
Following the big win against the Golden Grizzlies, Dumas returned to Cleveland that night for more clinical hours at 6 a.m. the next day. Kielsmeier suggested that she reconsider given the conditions, but she shut that notion down with one line:
“No Coach, I gotta get back, I ain’t losing those three points.”
“What the kid is doing is the epitome of a true student-athlete,” the coach had to admit.
“Honestly, it was a big road trip, school-wise and basketball-wise,” Dumas said. “For the whole trip, I had to make sure I was emotionally ready, I had to make sure I was mentally and physically ready also.”
“I’m drained, tired at the hospital, but I know I have to be successful there, because it’s part of school, it’s what I have to do. Then later that night, I knew I had to come back ready, be ready so I could prepare well and help my teammates win the game.”
The thing is, that wasn’t a one-off or a crazy weekend outside of the norm, it’s baked into her day-to-day life as a student-athlete. It was only even detectable that one time (and barely so) because of a snowstorm.
After Cleveland State’s home win against Milwaukee on February 24th clinched the first-round bye that looked very much in doubt prior to the Oakland contest, Kielsmeier interjected during a question about Dumas, who scored 16 points against the Panthers: “Did it look like she was she was at the hospital today from 6 a.m. to 3 p.m., then had to race here to get to film by 3:30, and eat, and try to get a few shots?”
No, it didn’t. It hasn’t all season. In fact, Dumas is having the best year of her career by most measures, averaging 12.0 points and 6.3 rebounds per game in roughly 25 minutes of work, numbers that earned her a spot on the All-Horizon League third team. Those stats are trending upwards late in the campaign too; on January 20th, Dumas’ birthday, she tied her career high with 19 points against Purdue Fort Wayne, but she’s topped that mark twice since then, including the game at Oakland.
Dumas was also on the Horizon League’s honor roll for the Fall 2021 semester, a distinction which requires a cumulative grade point average of at least 3.20.
The high-pressure juggling act – think chainsaws, not tennis balls – comes naturally for Dumas, who said she couldn’t imagine doing things any other way, given her love of both nursing and her team.
“Last year I knew it was going to be tough for this year, and I knew it was a dedication that I wanted to do,” Dumas said. “I was dedicated to being successful in school, and I’m also dedicated to being an athlete here.”
She believes that nursing is an ideal career path, given her interests and personality.
“You’re helping people, but you’re also learning the anatomy and how the human body works, and I feel like I have a good personality for it,” she said. “I am a people person, and just working in a hospital setting, it gets my adrenaline going. I know a lot of people don’t like going to the hospital, but going there and helping people, that’s what gets me excited. I can change peoples’ lives just by helping them out, that really makes me happy.”
Before she gets on with the business of changing lives in her work career, Dumas has the final few games of her basketball career left to address. The Vikings, now 19-7 overall, are seeded fourth in the Horizon League tournament as they head into the quarterfinal round on Thursday, with plans of putting together a three-game winning streak and earning the program’s first bid to the NCAA Tournament since 2010.
“It’s remarkable what she’s doing, and it’s really just a testament to the toughness of our program,” Kielsmeier added. “She’s been here for four years, and she’s wanted this run her entire time here, and she’s experienced a couple special ones, but this could be the most special one. We’ve talked to her a lot about it, about just enjoying the ride.”
“She’s gonna get through everything. No matter what it is, you’re going to get through it, just try to slow it down and process it. Her teammates just love her. She’s got a nickname of The Fossil, [they say] they’re going to do a 30-for-30 on her.”
Call it Believeland II.