City Game a chance for Duquesne women to show they are second to none
The Duquesne women’s basketball team is showing it belongs among the nation’s best.
Now the Dukes are out to prove they’re the city’s best.
Duquesne (11-1) will go for a program-record 11th consecutive win when it faces former coach Suzie McConnell-Serio and Pitt (8-4) in the City Game at 2 p.m. Wednesday at Petersen Events Center.
The series is 1-1 since McConnell-Serio left for the Panthers, and although Dukes coach Dan Burt isn’t hiding from the game’s significance, he said it’s not because of personal reasons.
“Anybody that tells you it’s just another game is lying,” said Burt, who was McConnell-Serio’s assistant for six seasons. “It’s a game that means something to both teams. It’s the City Game. It’s a rivalry. But as we prepare, the only time I think about Suzie is thinking about what sets she may be able to run against us. I look forward to saying hello to her before the game, but after that, we’re both trying to beat each other.”
Senior point guard April Robinson is the only Duquesne player left that McConnell-Serio coached, so she said the annual meeting against her former team has evolved.
“After this year, to me it’ll be the City Game,” McConnell-Serio said. “It’ll be that rivalry, that local rivalry, but it won’t have that added meaning that I had from coaching there and coaching those players.”
The Dukes are coming off a 76-57 victory over then-No. 25 St. John’s on Dec. 19, and they are receiving votes in the USA Today Coaches poll.
“A lot of people were like ‘Who’s Duquesne?’ It’s opening people’s eyes,” Robinson said of the win.
Beating St. John’s also bolstered the Dukes’ resume for the NCAA Tournament, a place they never have been despite being one of 18 teams in the nation with 20 or more wins in the past seven seasons.
“I think the players looked at (beating St. John’s) as (proof) that we have legitimate, top-25 type talent and potential,” Burt said.
Senior guard Deva’Nyar Workman, who comes off the bench, leads the team with 14.8 points per game despite missing the first four games with a foot injury. Junior forward Amadea Szamosi averages 12.9 points and a team-leading 8.6 rebounds.
But the team’s most indispensable player is the 5-foot-8 Robinson, a native of Springfield, Va., who averages 13.9 points and ranks second in the nation with 8.3 assists per game. She earned second-team All-Atlantic 10 honors last season and set the single-season school record with 87 3-pointers.
This winter, Robinson is “playing as well as any point guard in America,” Burt said.
“People don’t give April credit for the athlete that she is,” Burt said. “She can jump. She’s not someone who has a burst to blow by people, but she’s crafty enough to get beyond you.”
Robinson also is the glue for a team with seven freshmen. The group includes starters Chassidy Omogrosso (Blackhawk) and 6-3 swing player Kadri-Ann Lass.
“I think we’ve all grown together,” said Omogrosso, who led the Cougars to WPIAL and PIAA titles as a junior and senior. “The coaches and older girls have shown us what Duquesne is all about and what they expect from us, which is awfully high expectations.”
Omogrosso is averaging 11.3 points and leads the team with 26 3-pointers. She’s part of an offense that leads the A-10 with 75.7 points per game and has made 89 3s, 14 more than any other team in the conference.
“She does not toe the line when she shoots the 3,” Burt said. “She shoots with a lot of range, which allows us to space the floor and gives our posts a lot of room to operate.”
Omogrosso has a unique perspective on the Pitt-Duquesne rivalry. She originally committed to the Panthers as a sophomore when Agnus Berenato was coach. But after Berenato’s firing and McConnell-Serio’s hiring, Omogrosso reopened her recruiting and chose Duquesne.
In addition, Pitt’s starting lineup includes freshman Brenna Wise, a Vincentian graduate who is a close friend of Omogrosso. They played AAU together in middle school, and their families are close. So far, there has been no trash talk leading up to the game.
“As soon as we step on the court, it’s serious,” said Omogrosso, who lost to Wise in their only meeting in high school.
While Duquesne has a young roster, Pitt’s is even younger. The Panthers start two freshmen and three sophomores and have no seniors.
“I still find myself doing a lot of coaching from the sideline as far as the play calling and getting people where they need to be,” said McConnell-Serio, whose team reached the second round of the NCAA Tournament last season behind WNBA-bound guard Brianna Kiesel. “I think they’re improving in that regard. What I love about our team in being so young is they’re so competitive. They take everything in.”
Freshman forward Kalista Walters leads the team with 12.1 points per game, and sophomore forward Yacine Diop (Seton-La Salle) averages 10.8 points. Three other players average at least seven points, including Wise (9.0 points, team-leading 6.6 rebounds).
The Panthers have two other WPIAL products: freshmen Cassidy Walsh (Seton-La Salle) and Madison Serio (Upper St. Clair).
“This game is great for girls basketball and women’s basketball in Western Pennsylvania because you have two really good basketball teams going after each other at a very high level so kids in the area can see you can play at the highest level and stay home and do that,” Burt said. “That’s Pitt and Duquesne.”
Jeff Vella is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at [email protected] or via Twitter @JeffVella_Trib.