Welcome to A10 Talk’s Women’s Basketball season preview series! Over the next two weeks, three great writers (Daniel Frank, Zachary Weiss and Nathan Straus) will be bringing you exclusive stories from around Atlantic 10 Women’s Basketball, featuring exclusive interviews with players and coaches from every team in the A-10. We kick things off today with Dayton!
For Dayton Women’s Basketball, the last two years have been a series of heartbreaking close calls. It’s certainly hard to fault the Flyers for their performance on the court, having a combined record of 39-13, including an astonishing 27-2 record in Atlantic 10 conference play. You’d be hard pressed to find anywhere else around the country where that two-year stretch would be considered a “disappointment,” yet that is the exact situation the Flyers find themselves in. The 2020 season was, as well all know, abruptly upended by the COVID-19 pandemic hitting in March, canceling the NCAA Tournament that the Dayton Flyers had already qualified for by virtue of winning the A-10 Tournament, defeating Richmond, Saint Louis and VCU along the way. With a record of 25-8 and having won 21 of the final 22 games of the year, Dayton had their sights set on making a run in March Madness. They never got that opportunity.
The 2021 season for Dayton was also marred with the effects of COVID-19 on the program, as Dayton was able to compete in just two non-conference games before a COVID pause put the team out of commission for nearly the entire month of December. Another COVID pause in mid-January saw the Flyers miss out on another four games, and when it was all said and done, Dayton had 10 contests in total canceled due to COVID issues. And yet, they still managed to win the A-10 regular season title, losing just one game in conference play (against Saint Louis). As the top seed in the Atlantic 10 Tournament, the Flyers seemed like the unanimous pick to run through the field and secure the conference’s automatic bid. But it was, again, not in the cards for Dayton. The Flyers were knocked off in the Semifinals by a spunky fifth-seeded VCU team that held them to a season-low total of just 50 points. While Dayton did still earn a bid to the WNIT, no one in the program was satisfied.
With the dawn of a new season, all eyes once again are on the University of Dayton. If you ask Head Coach Shauna Green, every season is a new year, a new team, and most importantly, a new opportunity. But the shortcomings of the past two years still weigh heavily on the minds of the players, without a doubt.
“They still feel like they didn’t get that opportunity two years ago in the NCAA Tournament, so they still feel that,” said Green. “Obviously our goal is to win the [A-10] tournament championship and compete in the NCAA Tournament, so I know especially for our seniors and super-seniors, that NCAA Tournament is something they really, really want. It’s something that is on their mind, no doubt about it, no matter if I try to get it out of their mind, it’s in their mind and I think they’ve used that for motivation which is a good thing.
One of those three “super-seniors” on the roster, Jenna Giacone, echoed a very similar sentiment.
“I think, unfinished business, there’s not a better way to put it,” said Giacone, who won the Atlantic 10’s Most Improved Player award and was named to First Team All-Atlantic 10 last season. “Especially with COVID canceling two years ago and then with how last year ended, we have a lot of returners who were apart of both teams, so I’d say unfinished business is the right way to put it.”
In addition to Jenna, Dayton returns two other “super-seniors” in Erin Whalen and Araion Bradshaw, who are all taking advantage of the extra year of eligibility granted by the NCAA due to last year’s “COVID season.” And for all three, it’s their sixth year in college due to previous redshirt years, and all three have been major contributors for the Flyers for several years now. Araion Bradshaw won the A-10 Defensive Player of the Year in 2021 as well as being named to the Third Team All-Atlantic 10 in addition to being named to the Atlantic 10 All-Defensive team in 2020. Erin Whalen had made a name for herself in her own right, as she was named to the Second Team All-Atlantic 10 in 2021 and led Dayton in scoring with 13.6 points per game.
The strong returning presence to the roster was a major reason that Dayton was one of just two teams in the Atlantic 10 (the other being Richmond) to not make any roster additions this offseason through the transfer portal. I asked Coach Green about this, and she answered the question very directly.
“It’s a very good point you made because a lot of teams made a lot of additions, and for us, it’s always in recruiting for us, what do we need and what’s the fit. And at this point knowing that we had those three seniors coming back, knowing our younger kids and their improvement and just what we needed, nothing really fit us in terms of…you know we looked into some possibilities and none of them fit and none of them worked out, so at that point we’re good, we knew we’re gonna have a veteran team coming back and a big freshman class from last year that we have a lot of high expectations for.”
And speaking of freshman, the Flyers have just two in their incoming class, Shannon Wheeler and Brynn Shoup-Hill. Wheeler is a 6’0 guard from Detroit, MI while Shoup-Hill is a 6’3 forward from Goshen, IN. Despite the small size of the class, Shauna Green couldn’t say enough good things about these two. Among the list of compliments she gave, Green gushed about the basketball IQ of the two, and their ability to be coachable. Said Green, “They’re able to apply new things, a lot of new things as a freshman, and really just adapt quickly…I think that they both can come in and contribute [right away].”
Another element that has been a staple of Dayton Women’s Basketball for over a decade now has been their strength of schedule in non-conference play, and this year is certainly no different. On the contrary, both Shauna Green and Jenna Giacone indicated this might be the toughest non-conference slate that Dayton has ever had. The docket includes a home game against Duke, road games at Purdue and at Clemson, and neutral site games against Mississippi State, Illinois and Clemson. But make no mistake, the difficult road ahead is an intentional decision by Shauna Green.
“Our goal is to be in conversation on [Selection] Monday night to get an at-large. We have these opportunities that are great, but now we’ve gotta go out and we gotta win a few of them. Win or lose, I know same thing in the past, we’re gonna learn from these games and we’re gonna use them as preparation for what I think is gonna be the most competitive A-10 that it’s been in a while.”
Expectations, as always, are high for Dayton. Coach Green herself said she expects that her team will be picked to be in one of the top two or three positions in the pre-season. And with that, she also knows there’s never going to be a night off in the Atlantic 10.
“We’re always gonna get everyone’s best shot and it is what is it. It’s been like that forever and everyone is gonna wanna knock us off, and I say it every time, but especially how good the league is this year, it’s gonna be exciting, it’s gonna be the best it’s been in a while.”
Yes, expectations are high, but as Coach Green says, “High expectations, high pressure, but I always say I’d rather have that than the other. We take it one day at a time and we try to be the best that we can be and get 1% better every day and hopefully the outcome is the result of our process.”
Special thanks to Shauna Green, Jenna Giacone and Ross Bagienski for making this article possible!