Wysocki: In Pittsburgh’s college-basketball scene, women hold all the power | Sports | Pittsburgh | Pittsburgh City Paper

Wysocki: In Pittsburgh’s college-basketball scene, women hold all the power

They have broken down the barriers and escaped from their binders

click to enlarge Wysocki: In Pittsburgh’s college-basketball scene, women hold all the power
CP photo by John Hamilton
University of Pittsburgh vs. Boston College in January 2017

Last week, I delivered the state of men’s collegiate basketball in Pittsburgh. This week, we turn to the women and see how our seven local colleges performed during the 2016-17 season. At every university except for Pitt, the women’s team outperformed the unfairer sex. The only losing record was at Carlow, whose women’s team had a setback at 10-18, but was still more successful than its male counterpart, at 4-26. Rachel Carson’s alma mater, the Cougars of Chatham, had a 13-13 record. Luckily, unlike the other schools, Chatham doesn’t have a men’s team to bring down the average.

Over at Point Park, the Pioneers came strong out of the regular-season starting gates by winning 13 of their first 14 games. Despite the best efforts of New Castle’s own Ja’Nia McPhatter and her all-conference season, the Lady Pioneers went 5-11 the rest of the way. New Castle is already known as both the fireworks and hot-dog capital of the world. Now it has another reason to brag: McPhatter is a sensational talent. Still, the women’s team, at 18-12, was much better than the men, who won only eight out of 28 games.

The men and women at Pitt have the smallest disparity, as both teams played around .500 ball. Both Panthers squads had seasons that the kids today would describe as “meh.” Suzie McConnell-Serio’s team started 12-7 but hit a six-game skid near the end of the season in a brutal stretch of ACC games. However, it has only two graduating players, and some of its best players are freshmen or sophomores, most notably Brenna Wise, the sophomore who went to Vincentian Academy in McCandless. McConnell-Serio knew about Wise’s talent when she was in the eighth grade. The only person watching me in eighth grade was the teacher assigned to detention. Don’t worry about this team, it’ll be back.

Coach Dan Burt led a City Game sweep when Duquesne’s women also beat Pitt this year. His Dukes had a disappointing season, though, after a 28-6 record the season prior. Three two-point losses, to Buffalo, Rhode Island and St. John’s, swung the season in the wrong direction. Throw in defeats at the hands of much bigger bully schools like Ohio State, California and Maryland, and the Dukes just couldn’t recapture the spark of last season. The 15-14 season is just a blip, however, because this program has turned it around and is heading in a very positive direction. 

It’s the same story at Robert Morris. The women’s team ruled with a 17-10 record, while the men’s team drooled at 11-18. The Colonials reeled off nine straight conference wins and went the entire first month of the Trump administration undefeated. Hopefully, they will not get tired of all that winning. The Colonials look strong heading into the Northeast Conference tournament.

Lisa Murphy is the most accomplished female collegiate athlete in Pittsburgh that you’ve never heard of. The Carnegie Mellon Tartan became just the 18th player in Division III history to amass 2,000 points and bring down 1,000 boards in her career. Head coach Jacquie Hullah has established a winning program at CMU. She led teams at Northwestern, Dartmouth and Arizona State before coming to Andy Warhol’s old stomping grounds. This year featured a 17-7 record for the Tartans. A four-game losing streak was the only blemish in an otherwise outstanding season. The men’s team wasn’t bad at 13-11, but once again it’s the women who are bringing home the hardware.

Finally, the all-around most successful college-basketball university in the region is LaRoche. The men’s team was 19-7 this year, but has to settle for having the second-best basketball record on its own campus, as the Lady Redhawks soared to a 21-4 regular season. A huge reason for that success is head coach Kam Gissendanner. Gissendanner won two WPIAL championships while a Bear at Clairton High School. She went on to become the 23rd all-time leading scorer at Penn State. She parlayed that into a stint in the WNBA and a couple of years in Europe. She came into the season with a 93-18 record as a head coach. Now at 114-32, she simply can’t be ignored. Enjoy what you have now, LaRoche; she’s not staying forever,

The women play to win: Only one of the seven local college teams didn’t have a winning record. They have broken down the barriers and escaped from their binders. It’s the females who are the ones delivering all the fist bumps and high-fives (if players still do that). Maybe the men can learn something from them.

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