Dukes women serve up big year

DISTRICT NOTEBOOK

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The match itself was brief, lasting three sets that spanned one hour and 23 minutes.

But for Duquesne volleyball coach Steve Opperman, his team's loss against Kentucky in the first round of the NCAA tournament was much more than that.

"I think we learned a lot about our team and our program and the direction that we're heading," he said. "It's been really exciting for our team and also for the university."

The Dukes' season ended Saturday with a 3-0 loss against one of the top 15 teams in Division I. While the trip to the NCAA tournament didn't last long, it marked the final stage of one of the Dukes' most successful seasons.

The NCAA tournament appearance was the first, and it stemmed from the Dukes' first Atlantic 10 championship. Until the loss against the Wildcats, Duquesne had won 13 of its previous 14 matches.

The NCAA match was not as lopsided as it might appear. The Dukes were competitive in the first set, losing by only two points.

From there, the Wildcats pulled away and won the next two sets, 25-17.

"We had our opportunities to win that [first set], and I think had we won that, the outcome might have been a little bit different for us," Opperman said. "In the second and third sets, I think the environment got to us a little bit. Being in the NCAA tournament for the first time, that stage, I think, started to weigh in a little bit."

With the NCAA tournament appearance as evidence, the program has surged, fueled largely by recruiting.

Now in his 16th season at Duquesne, Opperman said it took him awhile to get top players to join the Dukes. It's a trend that he reversed with the signing of Allison Foschia, who just finished her senior season as one of the team's best players.

The Dukes lose two seniors for next year, but bring back a strong core of young players, including Chartiers-Houston High School graduate Lacey Levers.

Opperman hopes that the NCAA tournament berth will only aid the program's development.

"I think it's made them hungrier to be more successful next year to get back to the tournament again and, hopefully, have a better showing," he said.

Former Blue Devil shines

For the second time this season, Clarion women's basketball guard Kelly Johnson was named the PSAC freshman of the week. The redshirt freshman and Mt. Lebanon High graduate leads the Golden Eagles in scoring (16 points per game) and rebounding (6.6 per game).

In a loss to Pitt-Johnstown last Wednesday, Johnson scored 30 points, becoming the third freshman in school history to accomplish the feat.

Moving on up

With an undefeated start to its name, the Point Park women's basketball team continued to move up in the NAIA Division II coaches poll, advancing three spots to No. 21. The Pioneers are 9-0, with just one of those victories coming by fewer than seven points.

Dynamic City duo

On the junior-college level, two former City League products are off to excellent starts for CCAC-Allegheny. Sophomore Embry Williams, a Schenley graduate, is the leading scorer at the NJCAA Division III level, averaging 29.2 points per game while shooting 45.5 percent from 3-point range.

Not far behind Williams is his teammate and Westinghouse High graduate DeAundre Epperson, averaging 22.6 points per game, the 12th-best mark in Division III.

Craig Meyer: cmeyer@post-gazette.com and Twitter @CraigMeyerPG.


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