Since the season got rolling Se- ton Hall basketball fans have been waiting anxiously for the women’s basketball team to be voted into the Associated Press top 25. Home wins over Rutgers, a Princeton team that had won 33 of its last 34 games, and a tough St. Joseph’s squad on the road were seemingly not enough to break them into the polls last week.
That all changed this Monday.
After a successful trip south of the border in Mexico to compete in the Cancun Challenge, the team made it into the rankings as the No. 22 in the country, right ahead Big East rival DePaul. The awards didn’t stop there. The team is also ranked No. 21 in the USA Today coaches poll and was named the NCAA Team of the Week in women’s basketball.
“To be No. 22 in the AP poll and No. 21 in the coaches poll says a lot about the success the girls have had, so it’s great for them” head coach Tony Bozzella said. “I didn’t even know they had Team of the Week, but I guess they do. It’s all about the success the girls and coaching staff have had. They’ve worked really hard but we still have a long way to go, but it’s nice to get some recognition for the success we’ve had.”
The team is off to an impressive start this season. The Pirates are currently 7-0 and have had the best start to a season since 1989- 90, when they finished 21-7. The Pirates were also ranked throughout last season, but not as high as 2015-16. Their highest ranking came in at No. 23 after a win over the then-No. 14 Georgia Bulldogs.
“It was important to get ranked because people always say that rankings aren’t important, but they are,” Bozzella said. “You get acknowledgement for the success you’ve had, and if you’re ranked that means you have some success. I was excited.”
In Cancun, the Pirates beat NC State in the first round, 58-55, and advanced to beat Northern Iowa, 57-49. With the two wins, the Pirates were dubbed Riviera Division champs.
Senior Tabatha Richardson-Smith also received division MVP honors after finishing the tournament with 19 points and 7.5 rebounds per game.
The team’s schedule has not been a cakewalk either. Bozzella put together non-conference matchups such as Rutgers, Princeton, St. Joseph’s and Georgia, who SHU will take on this Sunday in Athens.
“We put together a very difficult schedule,” Bozzella said. “It (the Georgia game) will be a big test. They’ve won 51 straight non-league games at home. They’re obviously an SEC powerhouse, so it’s going to be a huge challenge for us. But, we’ve been up for the challenges so far. I think this will be our biggest challenge, so we’ll see what we’re made of after this game.”
Although Bozzella is happy about the rankings and recognition, he has bigger hopes for the team this season.
“I’m not so concerned about climbing up the rankings, Bozzella said. “It’s nice to get the recognition, but I’m more concerned about winning to give ourselves an opportunity, if we don’t win the Big East tournament, to get an at-large bid to the NCAA tournament. And that’s the ultimate goal.”
Olivia Mulvihill can be reached at email@example.com or on twitter @OliviaMulvihill.