By Chris McLaughlin
The veteran leadership of Alexzandria Dowdy, Kerrianne Dugan, Leanne Crockett and Justina Udenze has been a major factor in leading the Blue Devils back to the NEC tournament.
Clutch shots have been made, huge defensive stands have been put up and large deficits have been erased as the four women playing out their last year of eligibility clearly have shown they understand what it takes to win close games.
“We all have a lot of experience,” said Dugan. “We all got to play in a lot of games our freshmen, sophomore and junior years so we do have the experience to bring to the table. We have played in a lot of close games; we’ve been there so we know what it takes.”
Dugan, Crockett and Udenze will graduate in May while Dowdy is only in her junior year at CCSU, but will be ineligible to play on the team next season.
More than just leadership, the four Blue Devils have developed a bond after playing together as long as they have. In a sport as fast paced as basketball, where decisions need to be made in an instant, chemistry between the players plays a large role.
“We know all of each other’s strengths and weaknesses,” said Crockett. “I can tell you Justina’s game, I can tell you Alex’s game, I can tell you Kerrianne’s game. I think that definitely helps out on the court.”
In the NEC, all of the top teams are comprised of mostly seniors and juniors. While the teams at the bottom, such as 2-25 St. Francis New York, are made up of sophomores and freshmen. Having upperclassmen on a team in the NEC will make a big impact. It wasn’t too long ago that CCSU was at the bottom of the conference with Coach Piper waiting on Dowdy, Dugan and Udenze to develop and Crockett to be eligible.
“I think its special how they’ve come together as a group and what they’ve done as seniors just for the entire team and the entire program, with how they’ve worked with the younger kids and making them feel a part of the program. This year we played old and young and next year we’re going to play very young.” said Piper.
All four of them are among the league leaders of the NEC. Udenze leads the team in scoring averaging 10.9 per game and is in the top 20 for the NEC. She is also top in rebounding, blocked shots and field goal percentage.
Dugan is among the leaders in points scored averaging over 10 a game and in the top ten for assists. Dowdy is fourth in steals and in the top 15 in assists. Crockett, who leads the team in rebounding with nine a game, is also in second place in the NEC. She is also fourth in blocked shots and sixth in three-pointers made.
“Alex has gone above and beyond this year and is playing really well. Kerriane has been consistent every night, she‘s been that way since her freshman year. Justina has grown so much and has been able to score and better understand the things she has to do and Leanne has made her rebounding an important part of her game and it is really hard to take her out of the game because of how many rebounds she can get,” said Piper.
They have not only had an impact on this season, but have left their mark on history as well. On Feb. 5, Crockett broke the CCSU career three-pointer record of 143; a record held for over a decade. Udenze is the all-time leader in blocks for CCSU with 112 and Dugan has played more minutes than any other player in Blue Devil history.
“It’s nice to know what you did make an impact and to know what we did will be remembered,” said Dugan.
Having four veterans on the floor every night provides comfort for Piper. In addition to knowing the value of novice experience, Piper has a confidence in her players that comes from years of watching them play.
Piper has seen them rise from unsure freshmen eager for the playing time to confident seniors leading the team to victory. After years of coaching and helping them develop into the players they are now, Piper knows what to expect from them every night, and often finds it difficult to take them out of the game.
“For myself , I’ve had the opportunity to know these players coming out of high school and had the opportunity to watch them grow and see how they improved from freshmen year to senior year.”
With the four veterans leaving, the Blue Devils will be a very youthful next season. Though they don’t have the experience yet, the four girls leaving see the potential the younger players have and are making sure that their replacements are ready come next season.
“I always tell Kirsten [Daamen] to be more assertive when she has the ball. She has the talent, so I tell her to have confidence in her abilities,” said Udenze.
“Jess [Babe] and I always go hard at each other in practice and I think that really helps us both out,” said Dowdy. “She is always frantic so I tell her to calm down and let the game come to her.”
As the season winds down, the quartet knows their games are running out, but they have no desire to think about life after basketball. After last year’s bump from the NEC tournament, the girls are hungry for another chance to prove themselves. Everything they do is aimed at success in the tournament, so life after isn’t one of their concerns.
“Were going to focus on our last games before we focus on real life,” said Dowdy.