McConnell-Serio installing new system, confidence at Pitt
For anyone who's followed women's basketball in Western Pennsylvania the past half decade, the first sight of Suzie McConnell-Serio coaching in a Pitt uniform can provoke a double-take.
It's different seeing the woman who built a winning program at Duquesne in recent years wearing the blue and gold of the Panthers.
But times change, and they certainly have at Pitt.
Agnus Berenato, who coached the Panthers for 10 seasons, was fired last April after the team went 0-16 in Big East play for the second year in a row.
McConnell-Serio, who had coached across town at Duquesne since 2007, became the eighth coach in Pitt history less than two weeks later.
The Brookline native now has no shortage of challenges in front of her.
She must take a team that needs a dose of confidence after the past several seasons in the Big East into their first year in the ACC. Their schedule includes nine teams that made last year's NCAA Tournament, including three that finished last season ranked in the top 10 — No. 3 Duke, No. 5 Maryland and No. 7 Notre Dame. What the Panthers are up against was reflected in the conference preseason poll, where they were picked to finish last. But McConnell-Serio doesn't want her players to dwell on that prediction.
“Our expectations are higher than that, and I want them to continue to have confidence that we as a coaching staff believe in them,” she said. “We know that we need to get better every day we step on this floor, so that's what we focus on.”
Pitt returns all five starters, including standout junior point guard Brianna Kiesel as well as seniors Ashlee Anderson, Asia Logan and Marquel Davis. The eight returners produced all but 70 of the total points scored in 2012-13.
McConnell-Serio said the style of play will be similar to what she ran at Duquesne, including some of the same quick hitters and sets.
But with the inside presence of 6-foot junior center/forward Cora McManus and 6-11 redshirt freshman center Marvadene “Bubbles” Anderson they have options for different looks.
“The players are learning a brand-new system, so just finding where their shots are coming from, where their teammates are going to be open, what to look for,” McConnell-Serio said. “You're developing that chemistry. I know things inside and out as a coach, so it's trying to get your players to understand why they're doing something, what they're looking for. I think a lot of our time is reviewing and then putting it into a competitive situation.”
The Pitt women haven't been to the NCAA Tournament since 2009 and haven't made the postseason since a WNIT berth in 2010. The Panthers are a combined 31-60 over the past three seasons with all but five victories coming against nonconference opponents.
Kiesel said she's seen improvement over the past month and that every day their chemistry on the floor is getting better.
“I'm excited; the team's excited, and we're really itching to get out there,'' Kiesel said. “I think every year we go in with optimism and think we're going to do well, but we can't think about what happened in the past. This is a brand-new season and a brand-new coach and a brand-new conference. We just have a brand-new game.”