David Borne | Staff Writer
With the 2017-18 season right around the corner, the Duquesne Dukes women’s basketball squad is set to make another run at an NCAA Tournament appearance. Returning 12 members from last year’s 18-win team that reached the Atlantic 10 Tournament final, head coach Dan Burt and his team have the bar set high for the season ahead.
In fact, Burt enters the 2017-18 campaign with only one thing on his mind: Bringing another Atlantic 10 Championship trophy back to the Bluff.
“It’s an A-10 Championship [and] nothing less,” he said.
Despite returning a largely similar roster to the one that was rolled out last season, the Dukes were ranked No. 4 in the A-10 Preseason poll, picked to finished behind last year’s conference champion Dayton, as well as St. Louis and St. Joseph’s. Burt believes that his team’s success last year should’ve been enough to land them a higher rank.
“We really felt like any of the top-four teams could have been chosen in any [given] order and we were chosen at the bottom of that,” Burt said. “If you delve into the statistics of it, you’d see that we defeated Saint Louis by double figures both times, we defeated Saint Joseph’s by double figures and then lost at their place in the last seconds, and we return a lot more than the other teams.
“One of the good things [about the A-10 preseason polling is] that we had three players named to various all-conference teams. That was the most, … more than what Dayton, Saint Louis or Saint Joe’s had. … We thought about [the preseason poll] for all of 15 minutes and moved on,” he added.
The three players Burt referenced, of course, were junior guards Chassidy Omogrosso, Julijana Vojinovic and Conor Richardson. Omogrosso and Vojinovic were named Atlantic 10 All Third-Team, and Richardson was named to the A-10’s All-Defensive Team.
The tandem of Omogrosso and Vojinovic will carry the offensive load for the Dukes this season. The pair averaged 24.6 points per game last season, knocking down 127 three-point shots. Both are natural point guards, but their versatility and shooting touch create a dangerous duo for Duquesne to sport in the front court.
“We’re both point guards, so we know the game and we can see the floor very well,” Omogrosso said. “We’re both also good shooters, which is positive for both of us. If I run the point, she can spot up, or if she runs the point I can spot up. It’s a great one-two combo.”
As for Richardson, she led Duquesne in steals last season with 41 on the season. The junior also crashes the glass well, as she pulled down 3.3 rebounds per game last year.
Kadri-Ann Lass returns to the starting lineup, as well, which is vital for the Dukes, who will rely on her for post production. The junior averaged 7.9 points and 4.5 per game in 2016-17. Coach Burt has high expectations for Lass this season, yet believes that she is more than capable of exceeding them.
“We need Kadri to produce like she did when was a freshman and be the player that she was as a freshman, not as a sophomore,” Burt said. “She clearly had that sophomore slump, but she clearly doesn’t have it any more. Kadri looks very good in practice … Her ability to score the ball [is impressive], her confidence level has improved, and she’s in a very good state-of-mind right now.”
With the loss of Amadea Szamosi, Duquesne’s go-to option in the paint last year, one starting spot remains unclaimed for the time being.
Redshirt sophomores Eniko Kuttor, Paige Cannon and freshman Helmi Tulonen will all compete for the final starting spot.
While some coaches find comfort in having a specifically-set starting five, Burt is comfortable with playing the position by committee until one of the candidates locks down the true starting role.
Regardless of who ends up playing the remainder of Duquesne’s minutes, Burt needs to get quality minutes out of the aforementioned spot in order to lighten Lass’s load.
“For Kadri’s sake we have to find another effective scorer in the post, and I think we have that with multiple people. We don’t know who the other person is that’s going to start [right now].”
Freshmen Amanda Kalin and Libby Bazelak are Duquesne’s two newcomers that figure to contribute this season. With sophomore Nina Aho redshirting this season due to injury, Burt expects that the preceding freshmen will see plenty of time on the court.
A year removed from an 18-16 record and a WNIT appearance, Duquesne has all of the tools necessary to reach its second Atlantic 10 championship game in three years.
Richardson and her team know they have something to prove to the rest of the conference.
“The Dukes are coming this year,” a confident Richardson said. “We’re going to get that ring, and we’re going back to the Dance.”