By Chris McLaughlin
Despite suffering a defeat in the semifinals of the NEC tournament, the CCSU women’s basketball team enjoyed its most successful season in 20 years.
Winning 19 games, the Blue Devils were just two wins shy of the record set back in the 1989-90 season. In only her fourth season as head coach, Beryl Piper not only led the team to its second 19-win season in Divison 1 history, she revamped the entire program.
“We had 19 wins and there wasn’t a lot of hype,” said Piper. “After this season, the expectations for this program have risen. It was two years ago that we had the biggest turnaround in wins for that year, and this year we had 19 wins and its sort of expected. When we took over the program, we wanted to change the perception of it, and I think we’ve done that.”
While it was a very successful year, the 2010-11 season was full of ups and downs for the Blue Devils. Getting off to a 5-0 start, CCSU had its best start since joining Division 1. The team enjoyed thrilling victories over big name teams such as Hartford and Holy Cross and avenged some of last season’s bitter defeats against Brown and Maine.
“Starting off 5-0 was great for the program itself and our confidence,” said Piper. “The win over Hartford was something the kids really wanted and got us off to a great start.”
Although the Blue Devils were riding high after the 5-0 start, the team fell back to earth over the next several games.
During a 10-game stretch, CCSU ended up losing seven, including its first three conference games. All the loses were tough, but a close one against Fairleigh Dickinson is a game Piper would love to have back.
The final game of the stretch may have been the most demoralizing however with Quinnipiac’s Felicia Barron hitting a game winning, half court buzzer beater. But it seemed to light a fire under the Blue Devils.
“The loss at FDU early in the year right before Christmas was tough because we really didn’t play well but still could have won,” said Piper. “The loss to Quinnipiac was a traumatic one. We had the game won before their kid hit a half court three-pointer. Those are two we should have won and if we did we would have won 21 games and tied the record.”
Even during the midseason lull, the Blue Devils still had its moments. On Dec. 31, senior forward Leanne Crockett set the CCSU single game record with 25 rebounds in a win over St. Peters.
“Leanne’s 25 rebound game was definitely a high for us even though it came in rough stretch,” said Piper
After the loss to Quinnipiac, the Blue Devils would right the ship by winning the next five games. All five were conference games and helped get CCSU in the tournament picture.
Back on the right track, the Blue Devils made a huge statement when they defeated Monmouth, who finished the season in second place. The win not only proved to the rest of the league that CCSU was a threat, but proved it to the Blue Devils as well.
“The win over Monmouth was great, we went down there and played poor, but when we had them in our gym we got them back,” said Piper. “To me that was a tone setter, when we beat them it really said a lot about who we were.”
The Blue Devils closed out the season going 5-3, which was enough to secure the 6th seed in a very competitive NEC. The final stretch included some impressive road wins over Bryant and Long Island. Winning at LIU was another revenge match for the Blue Devils after LIU beat them earlier in the season.
After suffering earlier defeats this season, Piper and the Blue Devils made it a point to not get beaten a second time. With the exception of NEC champions St. Francis PA, every team in the NEC was defeated at least once by CCSU.
“Going down and beating LIU at LIU at the end of the season was really big because at that point they were a top team and they had beaten us before. St. Francis PA was the only team we couldn’t get our revenge match,” said Piper.
Over the last eight games of the season senior Justina Udenze played exceptionally well averaging 19.25 points per game and CCSU began running its offense through her. She continued her stellar play into the NEC tournament, scoring 31 points and collecting 19 rebounds in two games. Udenze was named to the all-tournament team.
“We’re really excited to have Justina [Udenze] named to the all-tournament team,” said Piper. “She increased her effort so much and personally improved her play a lot. She also helped us improve as a team.”
For the second straight year, CCSU knocked off Sacred Heart in the first round of the tournament. Despite being a lower seed, CCSU led for the majority of the game. Though they went up against top ranked St. Francis PA in the semi-finals, the game was still close. The first time CCSU played SFPA, it lost by 17 points, but this time they only lost by six. The NEC title was in sight, but CCSU couldn’t overcome St. Francis.
“We’re still kind of in mourning,” said Piper. “We had a goal for the championship and we didn’t reach it. It really makes you hungry for next year.”
Though Piper and the rest of the team are eager for next year, the Blue Devils will be a different team. Udenze, Crockett, Alexzandria Dowdy and Kerrianne Dugan all won’t return next season. All four were veteran starters and played the bulk of minutes for the Blue Devils. Losing four of five starters will be tough, but Piper feels the returning players will be fine once they get more experience.
“When we get back from vacation we will get back at it,” said Piper. “It’s tough because our four seniors played so many minutes. It’s kind of like rebuilding, the young kids haven’t played a lot but they have the ability to get it done.”