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Duquesne Women's Basketball

Duquesne WBB Hope Changes Bring Back Winning Ways



When Duquesne Women’s Basketball Coach Dan Burt analyzed his roster and today’s brand of basketball, he felt a certain need for speed.

Burt installed Vanessa Abel as the team’s offensive coordinator and likens the approach his team is taking to the Phoenix Suns seven seconds or less style.

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There also is a plan to use point guards junior Meg McConnell and freshman Reilly Sunday in a Steve Nash style, in probing, keeping the dribble and getting paint touches which can lead to three-point shots.

“There certainly is the analytic side, but in today’s modern basketball, which is led by Steph Curry and Golden State, you see the advent of analytics and how the three is valued,” he said. “We’re going to shoot a lot of threes, but we also feel we have an all-conference post player in Yanni Townsend and another good post player in Precious Johnson who can play inside out. It came down to the talent on our team and how we can best utilize them.”

How do the players feel about playing faster?

Well according to McConnell, that is just Duquesne basketball.

“We have a lot of good shooters on this team, so when we get the run out in transition, I can hit Lauren (Wasylson), Tess (Myers), Nae(lle Bernard), they all shoot the ball really well,” said McConnell. “If we can get those easy looks in transition, it’s just going to make us that much harder to guard.”

Wasylson agreed with these assessments with everyone on the team getting a green light to shoot early and often, something which also is fair game on break outs.

The decision to take the three-point shots in breaks may be something which could surprise teams and is a show of confidence in whomever is taking that shot.

As the season progresses, teams may make the adjustment, but that is where the team’s post players will have additional scoring opportunities.

Watching in a Tuesday practice, this team showed a connection which was largely missing a season ago and looks to be present for the long haul.

“We’ve been practicing every single day as a team, and we are getting progressively better,” Wasylson explained. “You see it from the start of the summer sessions to now, it’s just amazing how together we are as a group. We love each other and it’s apparent on the floor.”


During a get out of jail drill in Tuesday’s practice, Sunday found herself going for a loose ball, dove on the floor and ended up reward not just by winning that battle, but earning a loud ovation from her teammates as they all rush to congratulate her.

According to Burt this has become the norm across the board and the prospect of this extending into the regular season excites him.

“In my 25 years of coaching D-I basketball, I’ve never had a team dive on the floor as much as this team has and I don’t mean one or two kids, it’s the entire team,” he stated. “Our managers are really getting a workout cleaning wet spots on the floor. You will see us on the floor quite often this year, they have become very good at it.”

While Burt did not want to make too many comparisons to a year ago, he did make an exception when asked why he thought this mentality was not as present previously.

It is Burt’s belief that it was not done last year due to injuries, the concern of being injured or some parts of the team not truly being able to sacrifice in a way that was needed.

That he said though was the past and the players have left a lot of those thoughts and behaviors behind.

“They’ve created their own identity and have reestablished a culture we believe is a winning culture and we’ve had that for a very long time here,” said Burt. “The group we have has not had a lot of success, but we have a young group and really the only group that’s won has been our juniors. I feel really good that we’re going to be successful this year and it’s because of those kids and their work ethic and commitment to their teammates, energy and enthusiasm.”

McConnell echoed this excitement stating that the team brings energy and intensity each day in practice.

“I’m excited for our games to start, because I know we’ll do the same night in and night out,” McConnell offered. “I’m prepared to have a successful season this year because we’re a very close-knit group and we’ve been playing together, so we know our strengths and weaknesses. I think we can make a really good run.”


As Duquesne opens its season Monday with a home contest against Point Park, Burt expects that his rotation could total nine players, though more certainly could see the court.

Burt did state that any of the four who did not start would have the ability to do so. It is also worth noting that minutes could also fluctuate based on opponent, matchups and who has the hot hand.

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Looking down the roster, it is safe to say that McConnell will start. She has hit the weight room and the Atlantic 10 Preseason All-Defensive Team selection has a nose for the ball as evidenced by her 76 steals. McConnell has been a leader on this team and the new style of play certainly matches with her game.

Wasylson’s three-point shooting ability can also play within this offense, and now healthy, she has the ability has the ability to score in droves.

Tess Myers returns with a rounded toolbox in her arsenal after leading the A-10 with 90 three-point baskets enroute to what now is a spot on the preseason all-conference third team. Myers knows she will be guarded more tightly from deep, something which became more prevalent towards the end of the season. Now she has found more ways to create space and opportunities both for herself and her teammates.

Returners Amaya Hamilton and Precious Johnson both have will have plenty of opportunities as well. Johnson will have more opportunities to create her own shot and runs the court well.

Hamilton can play all positions on the court, though primarily will play the traditional 2-5 roles. When the team plays its taller lineup she can run the point guard, and when it goes small, she will play the center spot.

Ayanna Townsend has the potential to lead this team in scoring. When she catches the ball, there is a clear mindset on what to do next. When in the post she has several different moves, commands the ball and Burt opines she might be better on the defensive end, stating she is a “double-double kid”.

Sunday is someone Burt believes may be the most improved player he has coached over a summer. She has adjusted to the pace of college basketball, and he likens her IQ to Libby Bazelak and April Robinson. Sunday sees the potential for an extra pass before it develops and as a right-handed player, is just as skilled with her left hand. Since arriving in June, Sunday changed her shot mechanics, and it is clear she will have some opportunities as well.

Bernard will see court time, and fits well with shooting the deep ball, her speed also will be an asset and in an all-guard lineup could provide a mismatch.

Aniya Walker stands at six-foot-two and could project to see some time on the court, with Hamilton running the point, Johnson and Townsend on the court.

Olivia Westphal returns after redshirting a season ago and in Tuesday’s practice displayed an ability to fit the offensive style.

Singo Lekeuneu also returns to play and see some time as well. Kaitlyn Ammons, Selma Kulo nor Dea Pushkolli practiced on Tuesday.


McConnell acknowledged that at times when the offense went cold last season, it was on the defensive end where the game was decided. The offense extended onto the other end of the court, and it became hard to get crucial stops.

She believes that this is why there were several fourth-quarter losses. Of Duquesne’s 18 losses last season, 13 were by 10 points or less.

This season, Rick Bell, who last year ran the offense has made the transition to defense which has a style in place that both he and assistant to the head coach Frank Ferraro are quite familiar with and have helped refine in practice settings.

“We’ve gotten really good with the concepts of pack line, because we’ve never really done it before,” McConnell said. “We really bought in on defense because I really think that’s where we struggled last year. We don’t have trouble scoring and if we can get stops, we’re going to be a really hard team to beat.”

Wasylson has also witnessed a rejuvenated defense that will be an asset throughout the season.

“Our defense is one of our key aspects and I don’t think a lot of people realize that because Duquesne basketball is fast paced,” the redshirt junior said. “We’re going to be really good on both sides of the floor.”


The past couple of seasons have not been up to expectations whether it was injuries, the pandemic or playing away from the UPMC Cooper Fieldhouse as renovations were being completed.

Regardless now it has been about getting back to having at least 20 wins and playing postseason basketball and Burt certainly believes this is an attainable goal.

“I would describe it as ascending back to where we were with the full confidence of that happening,” he said. “It’s not going to happen in two private scrimmages or against Point Park. It’ll be over the course of the season. We’ll have some tough moments, and we’ll have some really great moments this year. We expect to be back to what our standards are which is 20 wins and the postseason. That’s the expectation. We’re very excited to know this exact group is returning next year also, but we’re not playing for 23-24, we’re playing for Mar. 5 and that’s where we intend to be.”

Duquesne plans to move forward together as a team and will do so as a motivated group, determined to make some noise.

“I think we’re often overlooked in our conference just because we’re so close every year, but we haven’t pulled through,” concluded McConnell. “I believe this is the year that we’re going to make a difference in the A-10.”

Sandy Schall, Coldwell Banker
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