Airing of grievances uplifting for Duquesne women |
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Jerry DiPaola

Dan Burt knew it was time to act. His players concurred.

The Duquesne women’s basketball team, which was named the preseason favorite to win the Atlantic 10 with a veteran, tournament-tested group, reached January with an unremarkable 6-7 nonconference record.

“November and December were tough on us,” said Burt, who has been Duquesne’s coach since 2013. “I was a little overzealous with the scheduling (playing five teams from power conferences and losing to four of them). That affected our confidence.

“We didn’t listen really well to each other, and that includes me listening to the kids and vice versa. We had to find our path.”

It was time for a team meeting.

Burt doesn’t remember the date of the meeting or his team’s record at the time, and he said no one in particular suggested it. But it worked.

Duquesne finished the A-10 regular season with an 11-5 record (17-12 overall) and will carry a five-game winning streak and No. 3 seed into the conference tournament, beginning Tuesday against No. 14 seeded Rhode Island (8-20) at Palumbo Center.

The A-10 first-round games are held on-campus before the surviving eight teams move on to Palumbo Center for the remainder of the tournament beginning with Friday’s quarterfinals.

“We had a really strong team meeting where everyone was able to air their issues and their grievances and their comments,” Burt said. “We all agreed that we needed to sit down and talk things out and figure out what were the issues and what were maybe the little things that some of us didn’t know about someone else that we needed to fix.

“I think every team, whether you’re the Pirates or the Steelers or the Penguins or you’re a high school team, you have moments where you have to have these kind of meetings.

“In my 22-plus years of Division I basketball, that’s the best one I’ve been a part of because of the respectful nature that everyone had for one another and how we came, not only with grievances and complaints, but with solutions.”

Something else helped, too. The women started making shots.

“That cures a lot of things,” Burt said.

Duquesne has an interesting mix of veterans and youth. Sophomores Amanda Kalin (Pine-Richland), Halle Bovell and Libby Bazelak are starters. Meanwhile, five players who will graduate this year — Chassidy Omogrosso (Blackhawk), Kadri-Ann Lass, Julijana Vojinovic, Conor Richardson (Carlynton) and Eniko Kuttor — have combined to score nearly 5,000 career points. Scoring this season is evenly distributed among Omogrosso, Lass and Vojinovic, who average 11.9, 11.4 and 11.2 points.

At 6-foot-3, Lass is projected by ESPN Draft Express to be a third-round WNBA Draft choice. She leads the A-10 in blocked shots (2.1 per game).

The seniors have been a part of 87 victories while playing — and losing — in two of the past three conference championship games. Three years ago, Duquesne reached the NCAA Tournament, beat Seton Hall, lost to eventual national champion UConn and finished 28-6.

“If we do what we think we’re capable of doing over the next three weeks, they’ll leave here as the all-time best class in terms of winning,” Burt said.

With talent, depth and the home court, Burt said, “We’re in the right place at the right time. We’re ready to go.”

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