Surging Duquesne women quietly garnering respect

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by Malik Vincent
For New Pittsburgh Courier

After establishing a program-best 13-2 non-conference record, the Duquesne women’s basketball team hosted St. Bonaventure to open their Atlantic-10 schedule on Saturday at the Palumbo Center.

Down by as much as 16-points, the Dukes were able to storm back to a 60-54 victory behind a game-high 20 points and 7 assists by junior guard Vanessa Abel— whose performance included pulling down 6 rebounds.

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LEADS DUKES— Local product Vanessa Abel drives to the basket in Duquesne’s 60-54 victory against St. Bonaventure Jan. 8 at the Palumbo Center. She led all scorers with 20 points, while adding on 6 rebounds and 7 assists.  (Duquesne University Athletics Photo/David DeNoma)

Abel, a Southmoreland product, chose West Virginia after high school and in the ensuing season before playing a single game, she elected not to continue with the Mountaineers and chose to, instead, play for Duquesne.

“I don’t regret going there,” Abel said. “West Virginia is a great school. It’s just that Duquesne was local and coach (Suzie McConnell) Serio was one of the best point guards in the history of women’s basketball. I trusted that if I came here, she would develop me into a good player.”

McConnell-Serio, a letter-winner at Penn State, is a women’s basketball Hall of Famer and former Coach of the Year in the WNBA. After taking over the program in April 2007, Duquesne has seen a significant turnaround.

They made their first post-season appearance in their 37 seasons, last year after being selected to play in the WNIT.

The Dukes are currently on a six-game winning streak, including a 71-67 road win against then No. 12 Ohio State back on Dec 28.

Their last victory over a ranked opponent came against No. 19 Pitt, in 2009. In that game, Abel paced the Dukes with a team-high 17 points.

“When you play against Pitt, it’s a pride thing,” Able mentioned. “They’re local (so) you gotta bring your A-game. You play with them all summer and you’re around them all year long. People around here are Pitt fans and we’re trying to change that. We want more people to come to Duquesne.”

The team also features true freshman in Wumi Agunbiade, a 6-2 post player from Pickerington, Ontario. She’s averaging 11.3 points and 7.6 rebounds per game and has started all 16 games for the Dukes.

“I’m glad to be making such an impact right away,” she said. “The adjustment has been smooth. I’ve been getting support from my teammates. My family comes down whenever they can. It’s been challenging, but I’m trying to make the best of it.”

Duquesne received 19 votes for the AP’s top-25 after their wins at Ohio State and against Pittsburgh in the Women’s City Game Jan 5.

“It’s been incredible,” McConnell-Serio said. “The way our players have worked over the preseason to get ready for our non-conference schedule and the way they came out and have exceeded expectations has been tremendous.”

Abel seemed pleased with her decision to join Duquesne.

“It’s great playing in front of my family and friends on a regular basis,” Abel said. Duquesne, as a program, is on the rise and it feels so good to be a part of something so special.”

(Malik Vincent can be reached at malikvincent@gmail.com.)

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