By Andrew Holman | Sports Editor
“Do or die.”
Head coach Dan Burt began his press conferences with these words after the Dukes (16-14, 9-8) solidified a trip to Richmond, Virginia and secured a spot in the Atlantic 10 Championship Quarterfinals with a 66-55 win over the George Mason Patriots (13-17, 6-10) at the A.J. Palumbo Center on Saturday afternoon. Midway through the third quarter, Duquesne took over the game and went on a commanding 26-6 run to put away the Patriots for good.
Senior Amadea Szamosi led the Dukes with 14 points and collected six rebounds. Sophomore Angela Staffileno tied her season-best with 12 points off the bench. It was balance that really won the game for Duquesne, though, as six players scored at least seven points in the victory.
The win was part of yet another winning season for Burt, — a feat he has accomplished in each of the four seasons he has spent on the Bluff. But no matter what happens against the No. 2 George Washington Colonials in the quarterfinals, this season will go down as the worst with Burt at the helm.
That goes to show the success that the Duquesne women’s basketball program has found over the past four years. A 16-win season with a relatively young team is nothing for which to be ashamed.
Burt lost 49 percent (35.3 points per game) of his team’s scoring from last season with the departures of April Robinson, Deva’Nyar Workman and Emilie Gronas. He coupled that with a regrettably difficult nonconference slate that featured the likes of current No. 4 University of Maryland, No. 9 the Ohio State University and a trio of teams currently with 18 wins: Ohio University, the University of California and St. John’s University.
That combination was very tough on a young team, and it showed with a shaky 7-6 start to the season. However, the emergence of sophomore guard Julijana Vojinovic helped to solidify a solid core to go along with fellow sophomore Chassidy Omogrosso and Szamosi. This triumvirate of scorers paired with increased production from role players as the season went on, leading to a successful 16-win campaign.
For Szamosi and Brianna Thomas, they have competed on the Palumbo Center court for the final time, but there is no question that they hope to prolong their collegiate careers as much as they can. That will require a run in the Atlantic 10 tournament.
“Her second half was outstanding,” Burt said of Thomas’ performance against George Mason. “I am really happy that as a senior, she gets to leave her come court with a win.”
Burt progressed to talk about his other senior, Szamosi, and the leadership they will miss when she graduates from the program at the conclusion of the season.
“I love her. She is a great kid,” Burt said. “While we were waiting for George Mason to finish their press conference, she went up and got a lifting session in. So after playing 29 minutes, she went up to the weight room and did a weight lifting session. That’s Amadea.”
However, there is a chance Burt’s team and his senior class may be far from done.
A mere 33 days after Duquesne picked up a double-digit victory over the George Washington Colonials on the road, the two teams will clash once again in a rematch of last year’s Atlantic 10 Championship game in which the Colonials edged out the Dukes 63-60.
In last year’s matchup in the tournament final, both teams were headed to the NCAA tournament no matter the outcome. This year the NCAA tournament is an unrealistic expectation for Duquesne with a loss, and even the Women’s National Invitational Tournament (WNIT) would be a stretch. It’s a must-win and truly, “do or die” time, as Burt has been stressing of late.
If the Dukes can pick up a win over George Washington, there is a good shot they could find themselves back in the Atlantic 10 Final. The Dukes will have their leading scorer Omogrosso back in uniform for the quarterfinal tilt, and that will inevitably give them the huge boost that they lacked in the first half against George Mason.
With a core of sophomores in Omogrosso, Vojinovic, Conor Richardson and Kadri-Ann Lass, the future for the Duquesne women’s basketball program is undoubtedly bright under Burt. But coming this Friday, the Dukes will be battling each night for another tomorrow. It’s time to see what this young team is truly made of.