For the second straight season, Seton Hall women’s basketball head coach Tony Bozzella has his team in the NCAA Tournament—unprecedented for a school that before last year had not sniffed postseason play of that magnitude in 20 years.
Last year, Bozzella had the luxury of the Simmons tandem— Ka-Deidre and Daisha (no relation)—who formed a formidable backcourt. This season, Bozzella is fortunate with his guard play yet again, but this time it’s coming from two unique players on his roster.
Graduate-senior Shakena Richardson and senior Aleesha Powell are each wrapping up their collegiate playing careers in the NCAA Tournament for the No. 8-seeded Pirates.
Richardson and Powell might seem alike. Both players trans- ferred to Seton Hall to finish their careers under Bozzella. But in terms of their road to making the NCAA Tournament, they couldn’t be further apart.
This will mark the fourth trip to the NCAA Tournament for Rich- ardson. She made it in 2012 with her first school, Rutgers, and again in back-to-back trips in 2013 and 2014 with Florida State. This trip with the Hall marks her third school she has made the NCAA Tournament with—ask men’s guard Derrick Gordon about that accomplishment.
While Richardson has had the luxury of making the tournament four times, she certainly isn’t taking it for granted.
“I can honestly say that all of my experience in the tournament has been up and down,” Richardson said. “I’ve lost in the first round and I’ve made it to the Elite Eight. Basically, I will say you have to take it one game at a time. Any team can come out and win and you never know—that’s what March Madness is all about.”
For the journeywoman, there’s one thing that is separating her final go-around, this time with Seton Hall.
“I feel like at Seton Hall, people don’t really think that we would get there,” Richardson said. “Before Coach B (Bozzella), it wasn’t even really a question if Seton Hall would be contenders. The fact that we got there, especially with a whole bunch of new players on the team, really says a lot. It says a lot about our effort. It says a lot to come back and do it twice.”
On the complete opposite end of the NCAA Tournament experience spectrum sits Powell. She transferred from Iona prior to the 2014 season and was on the roster when the Pirates made the tournament last season, but was forced to sit out the entire season due to NCAA transfer rules. Bozzella coached Powell when he was back at Iona, but the two never managed to reach the NCAA Tournament. That was a huge goal for Bozzella in Powell’s final season.
“It was very important, especially with Iona making it (this season),” Bozzella said. “Aleesha took a leap of faith and came here, and I can’t thank her enough. Even more importantly, I want to send her out with a victory.”
Powell knows how hard Bozzella has worked to get his team back in the position it is in.
“You can just tell that this is the place that he loves,” Powell said. “He graduated from here. This is his school, this is his dream job.
He was passionate at Iona, of course, he’s a passionate person. But it’s just different in this atmosphere with these fans.”
Powell also stressed how hard she worked to do something she had never done in her career.
“It’s a blessing, it’s a great achievement,” Powell said. “I’m happy to be in. We worked very hard, I worked very hard espe- cially sitting out last year. I think the team and the staff definitely deserve it and we’re going to fight for a win.”
This year’s Pirates will have a player who has now made the NCAA Tournament four times and players, like Powell, who are making their first appearance. A player like Richardson sees the beauty in Powell’s journey.
“That’s a beautiful thing, be- cause I know how hard Aleesha works day in and day out,” Richardson said. “This is the ultimate reward for any player in the NCAA, to make it to the Tournament. So it just goes to her hard work—Aleesha would get there eventually. It’s just nice that I get to share this moment with her and be on the same court as her.”
David Heim can be reached at email@example.com or on Twitter @DavidHeim12.