Back in May, Mikayla Pivec was hoping just to get a shot to try out for the U.S. women’s national basketball team.
On Monday, Pivec returned from Peru brandishing a shiny new silver medal, as well as the knowledge she belongs on the international stage.
The Lynnwood High School graduate was a key figure as the U.S. finished as the runner-up at the 2019 Pan American Games held last week in Lima, Peru.
“It was definitely a fun experience,” Pivec, who started all five games for the U.S., said when reached in Corvallis, Oregon, on Wednesday. “We got to experience a different culture, and I got to play with a whole different group of girls who I hadn’t played with before. It was a great learning opportunity for me.”
Pivec, a 5-foot-10 guard, is coming off a college season in which she averaged 15.2 points, 9.2 rebounds and 3.4 assists per game as a junior at Oregon State. She helped lead the Beavers to the Sweet 16 of the NCAA tournament. She was one of 35 top returning college players invited to try out in May, and she earned one of the 12 spots on the final roster.
“The last day of tryouts they had us up at 8 a.m. and lined everyone up on the sidelines, then they had an alphabetical list of who made the team and read them off one by one,” Pivec recounted. “Right before me they read another player who is also named Michaela, and when they said ‘Onyenwere’ I thought, ‘Oh, so close!’ But then the next name was mine, so I was super excited.”
The Pan Am Games are always a challenge for the U.S., which sends college players while other countries send teams filled with experienced professionals. As a result, the U.S. was seeking its first gold medal since 2007.
Pivec was given an important role, as not only did she start every game, she was made the team’s defensive stopper on the perimeter, charged with defending the opposing team’s top offensive guard. As a result, she didn’t score a lot of points (4.2 per game), but she was third on the team in minutes (21.6) and fourth in rebounding (4.0).
Pivec’s best game came in the U.S.’s opener, when she tallied 11 points, five rebounds and made an important 3-pointer late in the 70-62 come-from-behind victory over Argentina. Her two free throws provided the final margin.
The U.S. won all three of its games in pool play, then beat Puerto Rico 62-59 in the semifinals to advance and face Brazil in the gold-medal game. Brazil won the gold, beating the U.S. 79-73 Saturday.
“I think I played pretty well the first two games,” Pivec said. “After that, while I was happy we were winning, I didn’t feel I played up to my potential in the last three games of the tournament. I tried to find other ways to help the team if I wasn’t necessarily scoring on the offensive end.”
In addition to the silver medal, Pivec took away a lot from her first international basketball experience. She got to experience the raucous and hostile crowds in Lima that tended to side with whichever team was playing against the U.S. She made connections with teammates, forming bonds with Iowa’s Kathleen Doyle and Princeton’s Bella Alarie, while swapping Pac-12 stories with UCLA’s Onyenwere and Stanford’s Kiana Williams.
And her observations while concentrating on defense gave her insights she plans to carry into her senior season with Oregon State.
“Playing against a lot of international guards who have seven, eight, nine, 10 years of international and professional experience, you see how they change the pace they play with,” Pivec said. “They’re not necessarily any faster, but they stop and go, make herky-jerky movements, and that creates separation for a shot or a pass. That’s something I think I can add to my game.”
Pivec will be playing her senior season at Oregon State as a graduate student. She earned her degree in biohealth science, with a minor in chemistry, in just three years. She’ll spend the school year working toward her master’s degree, with an eye toward attending medical school in the future. She plans to become a pediatrician.
However, before entering the medical field Pivec wants to try her hand at professional basketball. Pivec is sure to be on the preseason All-American lists, and early projections for the 2020 WNBA draft have her listed as a possible first-round selection.
“That’s the plan,” Pivec said. “The window to play professional sports is limited by age or opportunity, so I want to pursue that and play professional basketball as long as I can. After that, I’ll take the next step.”
Wherever that next step leads, Pivec will always be able to carry with her the medal she won while representing her country.