Last season was unprecedented in just about every way possible across the college basketball landscape. COVID wreaked havoc on just about every team in the nation in some way or another, and many teams lost out on several games due to postponements and cancellations. It was a hard season under the best of circumstances. For Duquesne Women’s Basketball, that level of difficulty was tenfold. In addition to dealing with substantial injuries to several core members of the roster, the Dukes were forced to play all but one game the entire season away from home. For the prior two seasons, both Duquesne Men’s and Women’s basketball teams played their “home” games across town, splitting time between Robert Morris University and La Roche University, negating nearly any home court advantage Duquesne had in those games. Even once the beautiful new UPMC Cooper Fieldhouse opened on February 2 for the Men’s Basketball game against Dayton, due to COVID cancelling multiple games, the Women’s Basketball team was only able to host one game at the UPMC Cooper Fieldhouse, a 71-63 victory over Rhode Island on February 18. This year however, Duquesne finally has their home back.
“To have a place of our own is incredible,” said Head Coach Dan Burt. “For our team, we literally had to do a tour because there was more than half the team had never really been in here. Never really used the locker room, didn’t know where our coach is offices were.”
Playing almost the entire season way from campus last year wasn’t the only hurdle that the Dukes had to overcome: injuries to Libby Bazelak, Laia Sole, Amanda Kalin decimated the what had been the opening-night roster, forcing true-freshman Megan McConnell, Tess Myers and Precious Johnson to step up play big minutes and carry a substantial load on their shoulders. The three responded in kind, going on to average a combined 21.3 points per game. Diamond Bragg was another key contributor, one of the lone upperclassmen to make it through the season unscathed from injury, adding in another 7.3 points per game.
Yet despite the hardships of last season, Laia Sole found the silver lining in what was a very turbulent season. “I think that was actually good for us because we learn how to overcome obstacles and that can be also applied with like, potential injuries and like hard times like you know in the game like sometimes you do face those moments that you have to overcome these obstacles and that really taught us a lot.”
While the experience gained from the underclassmen last year will likely prove to be invaluable this upcoming season, Dan Burt is still wary about injuries to his team moving forward.
“For us, we’ve shortened practices, we’ve really emphasized prehab and rehab,” said Burt. “That’s everything from post practice stretching to the NormaTec legs to ice baths and contrast baths. And then we’ve really emphasized sleep and sleep patterns. It’s incredibly important that we sleep and sleep deeply in well, and then the nutritional factors. There’s a lot of things that go beyond the basketball court that we’re really looking at this year.”
Another key step for the Dukes this offseason was two key roster additions via the transfer portal: guard Lauren Wasylson from Xavier and Fatou Pouye from Western Kentucky. Wasylson appeared in 15 games for the Musketeers last year, including 12 starts averaging 3.9 points and 2.7 rebounds per game. Pouye started in all 23 games for the Hilltoppers, recorded a career-high 23 points in a game at FIU, and averaged 10.0 points per game.
For Duquesne, the goal this season is getting back to their standard of winning: a standard, with the exception of last season, has produced at least 18 wins in every year of Dan Burt’s tenue, including five 20-win seasons, 2 NCAA Tournament appearances and 4 WNIT Tournament appearances. In the short run though, the goal is to continue to improve, step by step and day by day.
“Are we going to be our best in November by no stretch? No, we’re not going to be,” said Burt. “Our goal is to be playing our best basketball when we start the conference season in January, and that’s what our expectations are right now.”