When women’s basketball walk-on freshman guard Maxine Engel was deciding where to go to college, basketball was an afterthought. Now, halfway through her first season, Engel has become a critical asset for the squad under the leadership of Head Coach Caroline McCombs.
Engel, a local of Memphis, Tennessee, has averaged 5.1 points and 4.3 rebounds on 37.7 percent shooting from the field in 18 minutes per game. After not playing in the first 11 games of the season, she has seen action in 11 of the last 12 games for the Colonials (9-14, 2-8 A-10), starting the past three games.
In her first-ever college game, a 70-57 loss to Lehigh on December 21, she scored eight points on 4-of-8 shooting to pick up the Atlantic 10 Rookie of the Week award.
“I give all the credit to her because of her hard work,” McCombs said. “There was an opportunity for her to play in the Lehigh game, so we put her in the lineup and she did what she has been doing in practice.”
When Engel was making her decision on colleges, she said her focus was entirely on academics. She said she was looking at some Division I and Division III schools in her home state of Tennessee along with GW.
“The three schools I was looking at were strictly academic,” Engel said. “I was just making my decision on that and seeing if basketball worked out.”
Engel said she wanted to study public health, and the Milken Institute School of Public Health became a big draw for her, along with GW’s location in the heart of D.C. Once she got accepted, she said she reached out to Assistant Coach Adam Call to see if she’d be able to continue her basketball career in Foggy Bottom.
“I emailed Coach Call and got on the phone with him and he was like, ‘Just try it out,’” she said. “’See if you like it – you don’t have to stay the whole year. If you don’t like it, you can go back to being a student.’”
When she’s not playing basketball, Engel said she likes to shop and go to bookstores in Georgetown, go monumenting, hang out with friends and read.
She said she also likes watching her hometown NBA team, the Memphis Grizzlies, although her busy schedule has prevented her from watching a lot of their games this season.
Growing up, Engel said she played just about every sport you can think of, but she stuck with basketball because it’s always been a family thing, and most importantly, she likes to score.
Engel has been able to translate her scoring ability into college basketball after averaging 15 points or more per game all four years of high school, culminating in a state championship her senior year.
Her highest scoring effort of her college career so far came against Saint Bonaventure earlier this month. She led the team in scoring with 19 points on a scorching 8-of-10 shooting from the field and 2-of-2 from 3-point range in a heartbreaking 50-49 loss.
Including the game against the Bonnies, when she played 33 minutes, Engel has averaged 26.5 minutes per game in the last four games. Engel said her recent breakout is a result of hard work with strength and conditioning coach Jonathan Lamb, a staple of her basketball career, as well as a little bit of good fortune.
“Knock on wood, I have not gotten COVID,” Engel said. “So I’ve been here the whole time going to every practice. I was getting stronger with John, getting extra lifts in and then just being active when I’m on the court, talking a lot.”
It’s not often that a freshman walk-on sees such significant minutes, but it’s easy to see why McCombs has given Engel more time.
McCombs said the Memphis local has outstanding footwork and a terrific jumpshot to go along with a ferocious rebounding ability. Not to mention the work ethic she brings every day on and off the court.
“She comes in early — she stays late,” McCombs said. “She watches extra film. To me, those are the little things. She dives on the floor for loose balls. She’ll step in and take a charge. She’s a great teammate and I think that she’s earned the respect of her teammates.”
Although she has already impressed in limited action, McCombs said Engel has the ability to become an even better player in her time at GW.
“I think as she develops into a college basketball player at this level, developing her guard skills will allow her to be more of a perimeter player than just an inside player,” McCombs said. “But I think because of her versatility shooting the ball, she has become that stretch four.”