PITTSBURGH — It was an already hard task this season for the Duquesne women’s basketball team trying to replace 5,000 points that were lost to graduation, and even though the Dukes have been affected by injury, the team refuses to panic.
Nina Aho, Halle Bovell and Anie-Pier Samson have all suffered injuries which Duquesne coach Dan Burt states has taken three starters out of play for the time being, though the response from the team as a whole has been admirable.
“Our girls have been fantastic about being in the gym,” Burt said. “There is no nagging to get them in, they are doing that on their own because they know they will have an opportunity to play. The truthful answer is that they don’t want what happened last year to happen this year and that drives them. Their commitment to one another and the team as a whole and their work ethic has been outstanding. We have a great locker room.”
Burt would not give any timetable on the injured Duquesne trio, which can be interpreted as a sign of pessimism as far as availability goes for Saturday’s City Game contest against Pitt.
Even with these injuries, Duquesne has won its last three contests, all on the road and is 3-2 on the season.
“You can stress out about it or have fun, and we’ve had fun,” said Burt. “This is just the way it is and the cards we’ve been dealt. We don’t have a home arena and we have some serious significant injuries to people who would be starting and we have a lot of players who will have to play. You have to embrace that and we’ve definitely changed things that we are doing. The way we play offensively is different, we’re still searching for an identity defensively.”
As the season has progressed, Duquesne’s practices have become shorter because of the injuries and as a result, the Dukes have treated this time similar to an in-season NBA practice.
When practice is over, that is where assistant coach Vanessa Abel shines.
Abel has been responsible for leading voluntary individual skill workouts which Burt states have become quite popular.
Healthy players have been able to boost their skill set while reducing the risk of injury, while those currently injured are able to rehab and prehab.
“Vanessa Abel has done a fantastic job leading those workouts and the kids can see the differences in their games and that they are getting better,” Burt said. “No person will go in and work out for months on end unless they are seeing improvement and she is a very good teacher. Those kids are seeing growth and progress pretty quickly, which makes them want to get into the gym.”
A DOSE OF REALITY
Duquesne is coming off a win Sunday at Lafayette in its last game. It was an effort that required a crucial comeback and some late-game heroics from Amanda Kalin which helped her win Atlantic 10 Player of the Week.
Towards the end of regulation, Duquesne was facing a legitimate potential of losing, when Burt made a couple of key changes defensively, which he did not remember several days later. What he did recall was Kiersten Elliott making three deflections during this time and applying ball pressure that Lafayette could not handle.
This game and the four before it, which largely were close and contested contests may be the norm for quite a while, though Burt stated his team will have to be ready for anything at any time.
“We’re going to change things up and the kids are going to have to be flexible and understanding, while being able to work on the fly,” he said. “What works against Lafayette may not work against Pitt. What we will do against Pitt is probably something different from our first games and what we probably should have done our first two games.”
After hinting at these adjustments, Burt stated that Duquesne plans to defend the paint more and play more zone.
Burt admitted that Duquesne has had Saturday’s City Game against Pitt circled for the last year, though not just because a setback ended a four-game winning streak in the series but simply because of what it represents.
“If you can’t get up for a game like this, then you shouldn’t be in Division I basketball,” offered Burt.
Result aside, Duquesne knows what it signed up for this season with Burt continuing to use a comparison he first uttered in the off-season.
“This season will be a roller coaster and we’re going along for the ride,” Burt said. “We’ve got our hands up in the air and we’re enjoying it.”