David Borne | Staff Writer
With both basketball programs on campus about halfway through conference play, it’s pretty accurate to say that it has been an exciting year for hoops on the Bluff thus far.
The women’s team (18-3, 8-0 A-10) is rolling once again, and the men’s team (14-8, 5-4 A-10) has shattered expectations and is quickly becoming relevant once again.
Based off of performances from this season’s action up to this point, below are midseason individual awards for both the programs.
Top Freshman —
WBB: Libby Bazelak
When a team has as many quality upperclassmen guards as Duquesne does, it would be easy to think that a freshman ball handler would not get much of a chance to shine. That’s not the case for Bazelak, who is the younger sister of junior Duquesne volleyball player, Maddie Bazelak.
Bazelak has done a fantastic job coming off the bench and supplying quality minutes for Duquesne. The freshman has transitioned well to the college game, and has already proven to be a trustworthy backup point guard. Her best scoring performance came in the team’s Dec. 22 loss to No. 1 ranked UConn in Toronto when she scored 14 points in 17 minutes of play.
Fellow freshmen Helmi Tulonen and Amanda Kalin have been impressive in limited action as well.
MBB: Eric Williams Jr.
Eric Williams Jr. has clearly been Duquesne’s best freshman, and is in contention to be the best newcomer in the Atlantic 10, as well.
Just 6-foot-5, the athletic swingman has received national attention for his rebounding ability. Williams Jr. ranks amongst the best freshman in the country in terms of rebounding ability, with numbers comparable to the likes of top-ranked big men Marvin Bagley III of Duke and Mohamed Bamba of Texas.
Williams Jr. ranks fifth among freshmen nationally with 9.48 rebounds per contest.
Williams Jr. hit a Duquesne freshman record nine 3-pointers in the team’s double-overtime win against George Mason on Jan. 20, and has recorded nine double-doubles this season through Duquesne’s 21 games thus far.
Most Improved —
WBB: Kadri Ann-Lass
Before the season, head coach Dan Burt remarked how important it would be for the junior Ann-Lass to perform at a similar level to how she did in her freshman season. She has certainly done that.
Lass’ stats have already improved in nearly every category this season, and she consistently locks down the other team’s top scoring option in the post. A four-block performance in the team’s Jan. 24 win over Saint Joseph’s put her at 179 on her career, the most in program history.
Aside from her defensive efforts, Lass contributes heavily on offense as well. She is the team’s third-leading scorer with 9.6 points per game, and her ability to knock down midrange and three-point shots helps space the floor for the Dukes.
MBB: Rene Castro-Caneddy
The progression of Rene Castro-Caneddy has been one of the key factors in the men’s teams resurgence. After transferring from Butler a few seasons ago, the senior didn’t quite see the amount of individual or team success that he likely imagined when he chose to continue his collegiate career at Duquesne. This season is a different story.
Now under Dambrot’s staff, Castro-Caneddy has improved tremendously on the defensive side of the ball. Additionally, the graduate senior’s shot selection has improved. The increased number of quality looks that Castro-Caneddy has taken has resulted in a much more efficient scorer.
Entering Wednesday’s game versus George Washington, the graduate senior’s scoring average is up to 13 points per game compared to just 7.1 last season.
Most Valuable Player —
WBB: Chassidy Omogrosso & Julijana Vojinovic
When a team has two players as good as these two, it’s hard to just pick one.
The pair of junior guards carry the load offensively for the Dukes and form the most dangerous backcourt in the conference.
When the two get rolling on the same night, there’s only one word to describe the pair: Lethal. Duquesne has found the perfect fit with Omogrosso and Vojinovic, and any success the team sees in the remainder of the season will likely start with them.
MBB: Mike Lewis II
Mike Lewis II’s decision to remain with the program following Jim Ferry’s dismissal laid the initial brick in the foundation of the new era at Duquesne. It sped up Keith Dambrot’s rebuilding process substantially, and showed that Duquesne was no longer a farm system for bigger programs.
The sophomore guard leads the team in scoring this season at 15.9 points per game with a 29-point night vs. Maryland Eastern Shore on Dec. 4 and a 25-point effort against La Salle on Jan. 13 highlighting the year. The combination of his stout statistics, timely shots and what he means to the men’s program was enough to name him the team’s most valuable player over the first half of Atlantic 10 play.