Following an exhausting season, Duquesne’s women’s basketball alumni were not shy to pick up the phone and once the pleasantries were exchanged, shifting the conversation to a short, but direct approach.
Last season was not good enough.
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Duquesne was 5-11 overall, and 4-7 in the Atlantic 10 Conference during a 2020-21 campaign greatly affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. This, from a team which consistently earned 20 wins, an NCAA Tournament appearance and was an eight-time WNIT participant during the 2010’s.
“There’s alumni that surely let them know that and that’s not the expectation, our expectations are different,” Duquesne women’s basketball coach Dan Burt stated. “They said ‘that can’t happen’, ‘that shouldn’t happen’.”
Burt admits that the emotions from a season ago were dominated by exhaustion and embarrassment. He discussed traveling down to a game, where in four or five separate instances, with his team ready to play, being informed the contest was cancelled. Whether it was during a shootaround or a pregame meal the disappointment was all the same.
Coupling this with not having a true home arena proved taxing for a team which also dealt with injuries keeping players either off the court of playing at less than 100% throughout the season.
Following the season’s end, Burt decided to give his team nearly three months off in an effort to recharge and find enjoyment, a decision he calls “one of the best I’ve made”.
Burt challenged those that came back during these summer months with consistent 6 a.m. workouts five days a week and also tasked them as a team to make 20,000 three-point baskets over the seven weeks on their own time.
They were able to eclipse that goal ahead of the set deadline.
“We came back in June dialed in and really focused,” said Burt. “There’s a really good vibe. The vibe of the past of success, confidence and togetherness is here.”
BUILDING IT BACK
There have been a group of 10 players who have taken to the court during the summer and by all accounts, early returns have been positive.
In terms of departures, both Ny Langley and Lindsey Linard decided to transfer to other programs, making the decision based upon desiring more playing time.
Provided Duquesne stays healthy as a team, it feels that there are multiple reliable options for each position which will make practices competitive.
“We return a lot of potential talent that’s going to play and expects to play,” Burt said. “You’re going to have to justify some coaching decisions. That’s going to be make for a very tricky coaching job.”
As August began, Burt felt that his team does not have a true leader as the group have all made decisions together. Whether that has changed since remains to be seen.
Still there are many that could fill that role whether it is Meg McConnell, who took on point guard responsibilities for much of last season, Diamond Bragg, returning seniors Libby Bazelak and Amanda Kalin or even Halle Bovell who is also projected to see the floor this season.
Regarding Bovell, Burt stated she has been the closest to being a leader, though she has not returned to the court yet due to a catastrophic knee injury suffered during a closed scrimmage prior to the 2019-20 season.
Burt called the injury “the most severe I’ve been associated with while coaching college basketball”. Despite this, she was able to run a 6:40 mile between mid-late July and early August.
With last season’s injuries, it challenged many of Duquesne’s newer faces to grow into different roles, something they accepted. Having some experience under the belt has provided a positive as there is more focus and understanding which has allowed the team to collectively spin forward.
“The new people and the younger people were all working together really well, you see a lot of different voices and different people stepping up, so it’s really a great thing to see everybody coming together,” sophomore guard/forward Amaya Hamilton said. “We all know our roles now and everybody is willing to complete those roles to the best of their abilities. We’ve worked really hard this summer, so hopefully it’s going to pay off during the season.”
Burt was very direct addressing his team’s current situation, with a smile displayed both across his eyes and face.
“We’re ready to start the season,” he said.