Despite being predicted to finish in sixth place in the 2020-21 Preseason Coaches’ Poll, the Seton Hall women’s basketball team exceeded expectations and found themselves as one of the top teams in the Big East. Seton Hall’s 12-5 conference record was good enough to see them finish third behind Marquette and the University of Connecticut, but they fell short in the Big East Tournament after losing to Creighton in the first round.
COVID-19 protocols and injuries presented plenty of obstacles for the team to overcome during The 2020-21 season, but the team’s ambition to bring home a trophy has not dwindled.
“Committed, excited, determined; those three words come to my head when I think about this group,” Bozzella said.
As the team continues to prepare for the start of the regular season, Bozzella said he feels they are “ahead offensively and defensively,” and praised the team for how they refuse to lose a step. The team saw sporadic win streaks throughout last season and capitalized on their momentum whenever possible during the regular season.
Lauren Park-Lane was at the center of everything good the Pirates did on offense. From her freshman season to her sophomore season, her points-per-game increased from 6.7 to 17.5 to accompany her 82.9% success rate from the free throw line and 42.7% finishing from the field. Park-Lane proved herself as a valuable playmaker as well, with 5.4 assists per game. Even with the growth she showed last season, Bozzella believes she has not reached her peak.
“She needs to grow into her role as a leader and become a better defender,” Bozzella said. “[Lauren] reads the floor so well; her improvements are very miniscule and will complement the game she has already defined for herself. We all knew she could flourish. It was really just a matter of time before she took the opportunity.”
Park-Lane earned All-Big East and All-Met First Team honors for the 2020-21 season and was awarded the Big-East Most Improved Player.
Another key piece to the team, who could not even initially practice with the team due to COVID-19 restrictions, was transfer Andra Espinoza-Hunter. She joined the team in her senior season after success at Mississippi State University and immediately made her impact. Alongside Park-Lane, Espinoza-Hunter made the All-Big East and All-Met First Team herself.
“Andra is just remarkable,” Bozzella said. “I mean, to see her do what she did without much practice with the team is one of the most impressive things I have ever seen. She is incredibly mature and understands the game so well. It just adds to the team as a whole.”
Seton Hall also took steps forward in improving their defensive stability last season, allowing just 27% from three-point range and averaged a 10-point scoring margin. Bozzella said his team will find further success through “defense and getting stops,” and improving upon last season’s defensive frailties will help the team unlock their true potential. The improvements thus far are more in their film than on the stat sheet.
“We need to reciprocate what we do on defense with what is done on offense and establish more trust,” Bozzella said.
Bozzella’s team seemingly broke program and single-games records every game last season, and that’s established a high level of expectation in conference play moving forward. He said in his nine seasons as head coach of the women’s basketball team, this is the most excited he’s ever felt about a group of players heading into the new season.
“Our goal is to do well in the Big East and get back to the NCAA tournament,” Bozzella said. “We are all driven by that. I want the girls to have fun and enjoy playing together, and that can be accomplished with the goals I stated. Mya Jackson is another player that has returned in tremendous shape and will blossom as well, which attributes even more to my excitement. They are a great group of kids, but this group gets along really well and I enjoy them.”
The Seton Hall women’s basketball team starts their season on Tuesday, Nov. 9 when they face Mount St. Mary’s in their first game in the newly renovated Walsh Gymnasium. Bozzella said he hopes to see the stands filled with cheering students to pick up right where the team left off in good form throughout last year’s regular season.
Thomas Donnelly can be reached at email@example.com.