NCAA berth still the vision for new regime

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Dan Burt is chasing history in his first year as head coach of the Duquesne women’s basketball team. His predecessor, Suzie McConnell-Serio, brought the program to new heights — five consecutive 20-win seasons and a program-record 24 wins in 2012-13 — before heading to Pitt and handing the reins to Burt, a longtime assistant coach, in April.

But she left one box unchecked, one goal the Dukes are determined to accomplish this year.

“Our expectation is the NCAA tournament — period,” Burt said Monday, closing his opening statement on Duquesne media day.

Burt knows he’s in a pretty fortunate position as a first-year coach. “You’d better believe it,” he said with a laugh. Instead of having to rebuild a program badly in need of an overhaul, he inherited a team already built to win and to chase its first NCAA tournament berth.

Last week, the Dukes were projected to finish third in the Atlantic 10 Conference in the preseason coaches poll. Senior forward Wumi Agunbiade, whom Burt called “the best player in the conference, was named to the preseason all-conference first team, while senior forward Orsi Szecsi was named to the second team.

Agunbiade and Szecsi — “The ‘WO Show,’ as they like to be called,” Burt said — say they have a little more on their minds than paper awards. Their senior class is just 21 wins away from becoming the winningest class in program history

“[These] preseason awards don’t mean anything,” Szecsi remarked with a shrug. “We’d prefer to make the NCAA tournament and not get anything.”

With their eyes set on the Big Dance, it’s been all hands on deck in the weight room and on the practice court. Burt and his staff of three new assistant coaches — Eddie Benton, Matt Schmidt and Rachel Wojdowski — are conditioning the Dukes for the full, five-month stretch run.

What does that mean?

“We run,” senior guard Raegan Moore said, grinning.

“And we run,” Szecsi added in stride. “It’s intense, it’s more intense, but we love it. I think it’s what we needed.”

Burt said practices are a far cry from what McConnell-Serio ran the past five years.

“I have an offensive coordinator, a defensive coordinator and a special teams coordinator in my assistant coaches,” Burt said. “So there are a lot of voices in our practices, which is completely different from what it was before.”

There are more sprints and more yells, but when the players think back to their collective decision to recommend Burt six months ago, they agree it’s all worth it.

The coaching transition “was emotional, it was long and then once everything got settled, we knew it was the right pick,” Szecsi said. “We had 100 percent faith in Coach.”

Stephen J. Nesbitt:, 412-290-2183 and Twitter @stephenjnesbitt.

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