In a strange way, the University of Scranton women’s basketball team’s upset loss to Endicott College in the first round of last year’s NCAA Division III tournament was a good thing.
Had the Lady Royals won and advanced past the second round, their season would have ended abruptly the following week when the coronavirus pandemic canceled the remainder of the tournament. They would have been left to wonder “What if?”
Instead, they had closure.
“I don’t know if we would have looked back on the season with the open mind that we needed to make the necessary improvements moving forward,” second-year coach Nick DiPillo said. “It hurt like hell at the time. But looking back, it’s definitely the best result that could have happened out of a really bad situation.”
Now, a new era of Lady Royals basketball begins Tuesday at 7 p.m. when they visit Moravian College. Because of the pandemic, this season is an eight-game, Landmark Conference-only regular season, followed by league playoffs. The NCAA announced last week that there will be no Division III tournament.
Fans are not permitted. All games will be streamed live at landmarknetwork.tv.
Scranton graduated four senior starters — Makenzie Mason, Sofia Recupero, Emily Sheehan and Lily Warhaftig — who during their careers won 107 games, extended the Lady Royals’ streak of Landmark Conference championships to five straight and reached one Final Four and two Sweet 16s.
This year’s squad has no seniors and six freshmen.
However, DiPillo thinks this will allow the team to play a more uptempo style.
“Those guys — Sofia, Makenzie, Lily and Emily — were used to a much slower pace, defensive style. We weren’t really able to fully embrace the uptempo pace that we wanted to play at,” DiPillo said. “I think this year’s team is really built for that. So the No. 1 goal that we have is to pick up the pace of our play. If we’re able to do that, I think that’s going to help make up for some of the production that we lost from a year ago.”
Two returning players DiPillo is counting on for leadership are sophomore guard Bridget Monaghan and junior forward Danielle McCurdy.
Monaghan appeared in all 28 games as a freshman last season with 12 starts. She averaged 9.6 points, 2.9 rebounds , 2.4 assists and 1.3 steals. DiPillo said Monaghan leads by her work ethic and is an example of what it means to be a Lady Royal.
McCurdy appeared in 25 games last season, mostly off the bench, and averaged 2.4 points and 2.1 rebounds. DiPillo said she has showed her leadership by helping to bring the freshmen up to speed in the program.
“Between Bridget and Danielle, they’re going to go a long way toward leading us to where I think we should go this year,” DiPillo said.
Other key returnees include junior guards Emily Shurina (8.5 points), Carly Heineman and Kayla Farney; sophomore forwards Kyra Quigley (5.2 points, 3.6 rebounds) and Sara Walsh; and sophomore guard Hannah Angelini.
Freshmen include guards Allie Lynch and Maddie Hartnett, forwards Maddy Ryan and Leah Nolan and centers Jenna Larrabee and Susquehanna High School grad Mackenzie Steele.
“They’re really a talented group. They’ve fit in well,” DiPillo said of the freshmen. “With the pace that we’re trying to play at this year, we brought in some high-level scorers which will give us versatility and a lot more depth scoring the basketball than we had a year ago.”
As unique as this season will be — only league games, no fans allowed, no NCAA tournament — the goals for the Lady Royals remain the same. Fair or not, this year’s team is expected to defend the five-year Landmark title run and extend it to six straight.
“The Moravians, the Catholics, the Drews, the other teams in our league, they don’t really care that we’re less experienced than we were a year ago,” DiPillo said. “They don’t care that we lost 65 percent of our offense from a year ago. If one of them beats us and wins the championship this year, it’s not going to feel any less exciting for them. They just know they have an opportunity to knock us off.
“It’s strange to say that a team that’s won the league five years in a row has something to prove. But these kids really do.”
While the Lady Royals may lack experience, DiPillo said they do not lack talent. He is confident the team can continue its success.
“It will be a different year for a lot of reasons,” he said. “But I think this group is uniquely motivated and prepared for it.”
During more than 30 years at The Times-Tribune, Scott has covered everything from high schools to the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins. His current beats include motor sports, local colleges, high school cross country and high school baseball. He also is a copy editor and page designer. His articles have won awards from the Associated Press Sports Editors, American Auto Racing Writers and Broadcasters Association, Eastern Motorsports Press Association, the Society of Professional Journalists Keystone Pro Chapter and the Pennsylvania NewsMedia Association Keystone Press. He also has been honored by the Atlantic Collegiate Baseball League and the Minor League Football Alliance. In 2016, he was presented the Media Service Award by the Northeastern Pennsylvania Sports Hall of Fame. A Long Island, New York, native, Scott graduated from the University of Scranton in 1986 with a bachelor’s degree in communications. He lives in Peckville with his wife, Andrea, and daughters, Bridget and Emily. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org; 570-348-9100, x5109; or @swalshTT on Twitter