By Bri Schmid | Staff Writer
A season ago, the Duquesne Dukes women’s basketball team had quite the year, capturing a winning season with an overall record of 28-16 and a 13-3 conference mark. The team held a share of the Atlantic 10 regular season title and went on to advance into the second round of the NCAA Tournament.
Duquesne will look to maintain the success of the program it built with graduated seniors April Robinson, Deva’Nyar Workman and Emilie Gronas. After a rigorous offseason, the Dukes were polled second in the 2016-17 A-10 Conference just behind Saint Louis. The team will be led by two integral Preseason All Conference selections, one of whom is Kadri-Ann Lass.
A sophomore environmental science major, Lass had a sensational freshman season. Lass was within the top six on her team in nearly every statistical category. She was fourth on her team in scoring average with 11.2 points per game. Additionally, she had the second most minutes played on the team and the most blocks by far with a whopping 64. As a 6-foot-3 guard/forward, it’s safe to say that Lass is definitely one to watch out for this season and will be expected to step up.
“I think that she has the opportunity to become the best player in the league this year,” head coach Dan Burt said. “With the season she had last year, she definitely has a chance. She may be an underrated defensive player, but I think she can do something great this season.”
Ever since Lass can remember, she has had a ball in her hand and knew that she wanted to immerse herself in the sport. Born and raised in Estonia, Lass grew up with her mother, who started playing professional basketball around the time she was born. Lass remembers going to almost every single game and trying to make as many baskets during timeouts as she could with the intention of one day playing for herself.
However, despite knowing that she wanted to play basketball, choosing to play at the collegiate level was a completely different scenario.
“That was actually a late decision because that is not really something that is popular back home,” Lass said. “I had some offers to go and play pro, but I guess I was not ready for that. I thought I should get a degree, too. When I was offered to come to the U.S. to play high school basketball, I realized that maybe I wanted to eventually come and play college.”
And that is exactly what she did. Choosing Duquesne from a multitude of offers, Lass remembers, was no contest.
“The biggest thing about Duquesne was the players and the coaches,” Lass said. “I absolutely loved the environment. I came to visit, and I was like well, ‘OK this is it.’ Everyone is so nice. Other coaches at other schools seemed intimidating, but here I felt like I could be at home.”
Though so far from home, Lass still considers her mother her biggest supporter. Despite only being able to make it to a few games a year, Lass says her mother makes them count by coming to the big ones. This year, she plans to attend the City Game in December. She says if it weren’t for her mother’s support and motivation, Lass would not be where she is today.
But Lass admits that it is not just all fun and games. Trying to manage the stresses of being a student-athlete can be overwhelming, especially when the season begins and the team travels so frequently.
“It is hard sometimes. It hit me last spring semester when I realized that we are like never here,” Lass said. “But what makes it easier is the fact that I love it. That’s what keeps me going. It’s like my motivation to get through it.”
With the season opener set to take place this Friday, Lass will get her opportunity to step up and being to emerge as a leader for her team. Seeing as the team lost many of its seniors and leaders, Lass says all she can hope to do is try to step into a leadership role to try to help her teammates get to where they want to be this season.
“I have been trying to just be more vocal and motivate my teammates,” Lass said. “Sometimes it’s hard because I ask myself if I am really ready for this as a sophomore. But we have to step up this year, and I have been trying to step up myself and be supportive and motivational.”
This year, Lass has aspirations for her team to get into the NCAA tournament again and ultimately to get the A-10 Tournament ring the Dukes just barely missed out on last year.
“Overall, we just want to have a great season. We are still a young team and we still want to win a lot obviously, but we are a young team so we just want to play well,” Lass said. “We always say we are the hardest working team in the country. If we want to do something big, we have to be the hardest working team out there.”