By Kyle Dorau / Sports Editor
Technically the season is not over for the Central Connecticut State University women’s basketball team. That is the only technicality when it comes to the remarkable turnaround they achieved this season. Last year, they had a record of 4-25 overall, with three of those wins coming in the Northeast Conference.
This season, they finished 18-13, earning the second seed in the NEC Tournament. They now wait to see if Sacred Heart defeats St. Francis (PA) in the conference finals. If the Pioneers are victorious and advance to the NCAA Tournament, Central Connecticut will represent the NEC in the Postseason WNIT.
The drastic improvement, which was the largest in the nation this season, starts at the top. 1987 CCSU alum Beryl Piper began her tenure here at Central last year coming out of New Britain High School. Moving up from a lower level is what makes it so pleasurable to cover Piper as a coach.
She understands that the media is here to do a job and can only help a team. She doesn’t look at it like some coaches at the collegiate level, as some sort of hassle.
She is humble, soft spoken, yet confident and straight forward. She has surrounded herself with strong assistant coaches, and their collective attitudes trickle down to the players. The team has certainly matured in the past year, and is still fairly young. The team is losing just one senior, Jhanay Harris, who started eight games this season. With such a young team going through the growing pains of recent years, they have experienced life as a bottom-feeder and are now ready to ascend to the top of the NEC. Just like their Men’s Basketball counterparts here at CCSU, this team will be very good next year and even better the following season.
Shontice Simmons is a dynamic run-and-gun point guard who, with a little maturation, has the potential to be first team all-conference. Leanne Crockett is a talented rebounder who can lead the NEC in boards. The rest of the team fits the roles that are needed to perfection.
My recent columns have highlighted the negative, and it is such a relief to focus on such a positive story. Rarely do I ever invoke the name of the 1980 Olympic Hockey miracle on ice in comparison to other teams, but this season was exactly that; Miraculous.
We have been blessed here at Central to have several feel-good stories in recent years. From Javier Mojica’s career and his NEC Tournament Most Valuable Player award, to the Men’s Soccer team and their shocking run to the NCAA Sweet Sixteen two years ago, there has been no shortage of things to be proud of athletically here at CCSU.
We may be in the shadow of a national powerhouse in basketball, but that takes nothing away from Blue Devils athletics. Some may just accept it and root for the Huskies, and that’s fine. They do an exceptional job marketing their teams. Others may lament that fact, suffering from and inferiority complex and referring to UConn as the “evil empire”.
I choose to just enjoy the ride. The CCSU Women’s Basketball team was difficult to watch last year to say the least. After losing 100-41 to USF in their opening game, we figured it was going to be another long season. But less than a week later, they got a victory. The wins began to mount quickly and impressively, as the Blue Devils won six straight conference games, making believers out of all of us. I’ve never been happier to be proven wrong. It was an exciting transformation to watch in person.
For once in my CCSU career, I’ll be rooting for the Pioneers, because for all their efforts this season, the Blue Devil women deserve a shot to represent this school on a national stage, as well as get more post-season experience. It will prepare them well for the inevitable success that is on the way.