RUTHERFORD, N.J. – It has been said that luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity. Only by that definition can Felician College graduate Gisell Peguero '14 be considered lucky to be playing for the women's national basketball team of the Dominican Republic.
Her preparation began with a standout career on the hardwood for the Golden Falcons. A four-year starter at point guard, Peguero ranks second all-time at Felician in assists (311) and assist-to-turnover ratio (0.96). She also sits seventh on the Golden Falcon career lists for steals (133) and games played (107).
Opportunity knocked last October. Peguero's uncle has strong contacts within the Dominican basketball federation. He was able to set up a meeting between her and one of the team's general managers. The meeting led to a tryout at a team practice, and Peguero was picked up for the team that afternoon.
Peguero was born in Brooklyn, N.Y., and attended Midwood High School. But she once again took advantage of an opportunity. In the early 1980s, FIBA had introduced a "naturalization" policy, allowing a player who had not played for her native country in a FIBA-organized event to be employed by a foreign country where the player has heritage. Peguero was able to travel with the Dominican squad to the 2014 Central American and Caribbean Games in Veracruz, Mexico, in November, but was still in the middle of the naturalization process and was ineligible to participate.
When the process was complete, what followed for Peguero was four solid months of practice. The team was given a respite in the spring, and Peguero briefly returned to New York City. But when she returned to the D.R in June, Dominicana readied with two-a-day practices in preparation for the Pan American Games from July 10-26 in Toronto.
Dominicana went 0-4 in the Pan Am games, and finished in eighth place. One of the highlights for Peguero was facing the United States during pool play, a game that was televised on ESPN.
"It was an unforgettable experience," she said. "I was on the court with the best of the best, and I valued those moments. But at the same time, I knew we had to compete and put our best foot forward. Our coach reminded us not to be intimidated by the letters on their jerseys and to just go out and play ball."
Following the Pan Am games, the team immediately went back to work. On August 9, Dominicana begins play in the FIBA Americas Women's Championship, a 10-team event in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. The tournament champion will earn a spot in the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro, and the other three semifinalists will move on to play in the 2016 FIBA Women's Olympic Qualifying Tournament.
All of the activity has left little time for Peguero to reflect on her time playing for the national team of her heritage. But even in the moment, she is aware of how truly special this opportunity is.
"This has been an amazing experience," she said. "There's something about putting on that jersey that says DOMINICANA and knowing that you're representing so many people and competing for your country. It's a blessing, really."