#A10WBBTIPOFF: 2019-20 Duquesne Dukes Season Preview
Welcome to the Atlantic 10 Women’s Basketball Tipoff for the 2019-20 Season. This morning, we feature the Duquesne Dukes.
You haven’t seen this Duquesne before.
International, of course. The countries represented on Duquesne’s roster: Macedonia, Sweden, Spain, Canada (twice), Albania, Hungary and, of course, the United States.
Different cast, new style? Indeed.
“We’re going to have to be different to be good,” said Coach Dan Burt. “We haven’t been in this position for a long time because we always had returners. In one way it’s scary, and in another way, it’s absolutely refreshing.”
Duquesne graduated its top three scorers, including Chassidy Omogrosso, third all-time in program points, and Kadri-Ann Lass, who concluded her career as the school’s all-time blocks leader.
“We lose a tremendous amount,” Burt said. “We’re completely unproven. We’re not as talented as we’ve been in the past. Four of our five seniors have signed pro contracts. But we have great size and length and our commitment to one another is outstanding.”
Assist leader Libby Bazelak returns as the leading scorer. Burt is also hopeful about Nina Aho, an elite athlete who weathered health and injury issues last year, will make the impact he knows she’s capable of. He touts the 5-10 redshirt junior guard from Hungary as a difference maker if fully healthy.
“Nina’s the key,” said Burt, who compares her to Washington Mystics star Kristi Toliver. “She’s really not far off from where she needs to be. Her skill level is high.”
Rebounding and defending will be critical to the Dukes’ success. Freshmen center Precious Johnson, 6-4, redshirt junior Anie-Pier Sampson, 6-2, and redshirt freshman Caroline Elliott, 5-11, add size to a team that isn’t known for it. Freshman Aniyah Hamilton, 6-2, will contribute early.
The Indianapolis native always played the 4 in high school but will play the 2-3 for the Dukes.
Duquesne’s gym, the Palumbo Center, is being torn down and re-built as the UPMC Chuck Cooper Fieldhouse. That building won’t be ready until next season, though, so the Dukes will be a team without a home this season. Eight of their 13 non-league games will be on the road, with the others coming at three different venues in the Pittsburgh area.
Last year’s futility snapped a streak of 10 straight postseason appearances (9 WNIT, 1 NCAA in 2016) for Duquesne. Let’s see if the Dukes can make it 11 out of 12 by being one of the league’s upstarts this season.
“It’s going to be a great year,” Burt said. “I can’t wait.”
A look at the Dukes:
Coach: Dan Burt, 7th year at Duquesne, 133-67 there and overall
Last year: 19-13, 11-5 Atlantic 10 (lost to eventual A-10 champion Fordham 76-34 in the championship semifinals)
They’ll miss: Duquesne graduates its top three scorers. Chassidy Omogrosso, Second Team All-A-10 guard, averaged 12.2 ppg. Kadri-Ann Lass, a 6-3 Third team All-A-10 guard/forward and A-10 All-Defensive team, led the A-10 in blocks (71) and is Duquesne’s all-time leader in blocks. Julijana Vojinovic tied for second among Dukes in scoring (10.9 ppg). Conor Richardson started 12 games and Eniko Kuttor appeared in 12 games during an injury-plagued campaign.
Impact returners: Bazelak (5-9 Jr G) started 31 of 32 games, led Dukes in assists and is the top returning scorer (7.4 ppg). Aho (5-10 R-Jr. G) appeared in just five games last year. Amanda Kalin started 13 of 32 games, and redshirt senior Paige Cannon, started 21 of 32 games, averaged 5.3 points and 4.1 rebounds
Newbies of note: Hamilton, a 6-2 wing can shoot the three and defend multiple positions. “We feel like we’ve got an elite level athlete with length and quickness and skills. We really have a steal,” Burt said. “We think she’s outstanding.”
Reasons for optimism: Despite the loss of top-end talent, the Dukes return several players who have been in the program, including Aho, an elite talent if she can stay healthy. The Dukes have won at least 18 games in each of Burt’s previous six seasons and 20 or more in four of them.
Circle the date: Pitt and Duquesne resume hostilities in the 38th edition of the “City Game” on Nov. 23 at Pitt’s Petersen Events Center. The teams have met annually since 1984 with Pitt holding a 21-16 advantage, but Duquesne has won eight of the last 10 meetings; Pitt prevailed last year (66-58) to snap a four-game losing streak.
Bottom line. Last year was an aberration for Duquesne. Burt brings energy and enthusiasm to piecing together a group that he commends for its dedication to process. The Dukes’ increased size is a bonus. It’s an unheralded team that will likely be in peak form by March.