December 22, 2020 

FGCU’s big week highlighted by 500th win, upcoming ESPNU game

And, of course, Kierstan Bell keeps doing Kierstan Bell things

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The Florida Gulf Coast Eagles women’s basketball team celebrates its 500th program win on Monday, Dec. 21, 2020. (Photo: FGCU Women’s Basketball via Twitter)

It’s just been one of those weeks for one of Division I’s most dominant programs.

Florida Gulf Coast women’s basketball recorded its 500th win Monday night in the second game of a doubleheader at Florida International. Having played just 597 games, including non-Division I contests from 2002-07, the Eagles could become NCAA Division I’s all-time winning percentage leader by the end of this season.

Looking at the program’s run in its entirety is something that comes naturally to head coach Karl Smesko, FGCU’s only head coach in its history.

“To me, I just remember the people that have been involved. That’s what it’s all about,” Smesko said. “… So to me it’s not about any one game or any number of wins, it’s more about the relationships you develop with the people involved.”

One relationship in particular, with 2020-21 transfer Kierstan Bell, has particularly shone since Bell’s first game. Against Davidson on Nov. 29, Bell exploded for 24 points and 20 rebounds, the first time in FGCU history a player has reached the 20-point, 20-rebound mark.

In seven games, Bell is averaging 23 points, 11.8 rebounds and 3.3 blocks per game, all of which top the Atlantic Sun. For good measure, she’s also shooting a conference fourth-best 57.6%.

Not surprisingly, Bell’s dominance has garnered her some ASUN attention — she was named Newcomer of the Week for the week of Dec. 21, one week after earning both Player of the Week and Newcomer of the Week honors.

“Kierstan had another outstanding week,” head coach Karl Smesko said. “She scores in a variety of ways, rebounds and blocks shots. She has had an exceptional start to the season.”

In announcing her transfer to FGCU in May, Bell cited the program’s “winning basketball tradition” and her confidence in Smesko to help get her to the next level. So far, it’s hard to argue that the fit isn’t working out — and there’s still plenty of room to grow for both her and the Eagles.

“With a whole new team, we’re trying to work together and play more like a team, play more like FGCU basketball each game,” Smesko said. “I think the players were excited about it being the 500th win and we had a nice celebration, but we’ll go back, watch film, learn from the game and get ready for No. 501.”

Less than 24 hours after Monday’s historic win, the ASUN announced FGCU would appear in the conference’s first-ever nationally televised women’s basketball game. The Eagles’ Jan. 10 tilt against rival Liberty will be broadcast on ESPNU.

Before the 2019-20 season ended prematurely, the two teams were on a crash course to meet in their second straight championship, needing only to get past their respective semifinal opponents. As such, it’s no big shock that this matchup being set to take place on national television is an exciting prospect for the conference.

“While the two schools were declared co-champions [last season], I’m sure this game will have an added level of intensity as players work to show their fans who reigns supreme in the ASUN,” said ASUN Commissioner Ted Gumbart. “It will be a terrific atmosphere, regardless of fan capacity.”

FGCU is scheduled to tip off conference play on Jan. 2 and 3 at North Alabama before hosting Liberty on Jan. 9 and 10.

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